by Sean Morris
Bob Baffert may not have had a Triple Crown contender running on Belmont Stakes Day, but the Hall of Fame trainer wasn't lacking for firepower when he sent out California invader West Coast to an authoritative victory in the $150,000 Easy Goer to kick off the day's stakes action on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Making his one-turn debut in the 1 1/16-mile Easy Goer for 3-year-olds on the main track, West Coast broke a bit slow and was content to sit mid-pack behind a three-ply duel for the lead through fractions of 22.79 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 45.62 for the half, and 1:10.09 for three-quarters.
Moving smoothly into the turn, the son of Flatter sat perched wide for the duration as he swept up to the enervated front-runners and sailed by in upper stretch, cruising to a 3 ¾-length score over the late-closing You're to Blame.
"He's a nice colt," said his winning jockey, Hall of Famer Mike Smith. "It was my first time on him and after the way he ran I kind of wish they entered him in the Belmont. That was a great race to get some confidence in him, shipping from out of town. He loved this racetrack. He was squealing and playing, I thought, 'Man, don't you know we have to run here?' But he just loved it. I got squeezed at the start, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because they were going way too quick and I might have got caught up into it."
Baffert toyed with the idea of entering West Coast in the 149th 'Test of the Champion' but elected the easier spot for his blossoming colt.
"We thought he'd run well," said Baffert, who trains West Coast for Gary and Mary West. "He didn't convince us [he should be in the Belmont] but he's figuring it out. He's really developing the right way."
West Coast completed the distance over a tiring main track in 1:41.50, almost a second faster than older allowance runners a race earlier, and returned $5.70 on a $2 win wager. His earnings now stand at $203,800.
Behind You're to Blame it was another two lengths back to Outplay in third, who distanced himself from Jamminwithbrandon by 7 ¼ lengths despite being embroiled in the early pace duel.
Tale of Silence, Wicked Macho, Local Hero, Lookin At Blessing and Sonic Mule completed the order of finish.
149th Belmont Stakes Race Replay