10/30/2017 6:10AM

Owners totally focused on West Coast in Breeders' Cup Classic

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Justin N. Lane
Owner Gary West (right) smiles after West Coast won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby in September.

The first time Gary and Mary West won a Breeders’ Cup race they nearly missed the moment.

In the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita, the Wests’s New Year’s Day rallied from eighth on the rail in the stretch to take the lead in the final 100 yards.

“The truth of the matter is I lost sight of the horse,” Gary West recalled last week. “The announcer didn’t call his name for the longest time. It was the last 150 yards that we saw he had a shot.

“The excitement for me and my wife and the people with us only lasted about 10 seconds. It was an exciting 10 seconds.”

The Wests are hoping for a more sustained view of their colt West Coast winning the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday at Del Mar. West Coast has developed into the nation’s leading 3-year-old since late spring and will start in the BC Classic as a horse capable of beating top 4-year-olds Arrogate, Gun Runner, and Collected in the richest race of the Breeders’ Cup series.

In the last five months, West Coast’s reputation has soared with consecutive wins in the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont Park in June, Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby in July, Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga in August, and the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 23 at Parx Racing.

The win in the Easy Goer Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on the Belmont Stakes undercard left Gary West with the thought the colt had improved rapidly.

“They were not Grade 1 horses, but he won the race very easily,” West said. “He got bothered at the start. It was the first time he hadn’t been close to the pace. At that point and time, the light came on for the horse.

“Every race has gotten progressively better.”

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Purchased for $425,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale, West Coast has won 6 of 8 starts and earned $1,543,800, all since a second in his debut at Santa Anita in mid-February.

“It’s nice to have a nice horse at any point in your life,” West said. “Nice horses are few and far between. You sign a lot of tickets at the sales before you get a good horse.”

The BC Classic will be West Coast’s first start at Del Mar. During the summer, West Coast had six workouts at Del Mar, where his trainer, Bob Baffert, was based.

“If it’s the same track it was this summer, we know he likes the track,” West said.

“He’s doing as well as he’s done for the last three months, training exceptionally well. He’s done everything right. He deserves a shot to run in the race.”

The Wests have owned horses since 1980, when they lived in Omaha, Neb., and had runners at that state’s signature track, the now-closed Ak-Sar-Ben. West Coast will be the Wests’s eighth starter in a Breeders’ Cup race and the first since New Year’s Day won the Juvenile.

Gary West estimates the couple own approximately 150 broodmares, weanlings, yearlings, and horses of racing age. The racehorses are spread among Baffert, Steve Asmussen, and Jason Servis.

This year, the leading filly in the stable has been Actress, who won the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico in May.

The Wests live near Del Mar, in Rancho Santa Fe. Gary West has spent decades in the telecommunications business, but says he and his wife devote much of their time to their charity, the San Diego-based Gary and Mary West Foundation, which aids lower-income seniors with health needs.

“We help with health problems, dental problems,” Gary West said. “We don’t have any children. One hundred percent of our wealth will go to our foundation, which will operate in perpetuity to give poor seniors a better quality of life.”

West also pays close attention to the stable, working with racing manager Ben Glass.

“I still make a lot of major decisions on what horses we buy and what we do,” West said.

“Understanding the mare business is different than the weanling business, which is different than the yearling business or the racing business. It takes a team effort.”

Winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic with West Coast would be by far their greatest achievement.

“This is the toughest Classic in the last 20 years,” Gary West said. “There are a lot of people who are high on this horse. I hope they’re right.”

That would be something to see.