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West Coast and Irap hope a win in the Pennsylvania Derby could lead to an Eclipse Award

West Coast ships east for the second time in four weeks, hoping to enhance his credentials in a wide-open race for the Eclipse Award as the nation’s leading 3-year-old male horse.

The latest rising star produced by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will aim for his fifth consecutive victory in the $1-million Pennsylvania Derby on Saturday at Parx Racing in Bensalem, Pa.

West Coast will break from post four for regular rider Mike Smith in the 1 1/8-mile race. He is a robust 8-5 morning-line favorite in this newly minted Grade 1 stakes. It comes after his front-running 3 1/4-length win in the Aug. 26 Travers at Saratoga Race Course.

“You never know until the gates open,” Baffert said, “but all the signs are that he looks good.”

The bay son of Flatter, purchased for $425,000 as a yearling by Mary and Gary West, tuned up for what may be a pivotal race for year-end honors by drilling four furlongs in a crisp 47.40 seconds on Monday at Santa Anita. He shipped to Parx two days later.

If West Coast should win the Pennsylvania Derby, he would join Always Dreaming as the only members of their class with two Grade 1 wins on dirt. Always Dreaming swept consecutive Grade 1’s with convincing victories in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. He soured after that, running eighth in the Preakness, third in the Jim Dandy and ninth in the Travers.

Preakness winner Cloud Computing and Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit also have been unable to win since the spring, leaving the division race unsettled.

Trainer Doug O’Neill believes that Irap, with wins in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes, the Grade 3 Ohio and Indiana Derbies, and a third in the Travers could still emerge if he wins Saturday. Irap is the 3-1 second choice.

“I think it’s going to tell a lot about the 3-year-old picture,” O’Neill said of the last major race for 3-year-olds. “If either West Coast or Irap were lucky enough to win, they are right on the leader board, either leading or right there.”

Irap has been a project since Paul Reddam purchased him for $300,000 as a 2-year-old. “Ever since he came to the barn, he’s been a physically imposing colt,” O’Neill said. “It’s taken him awhile to mature.”

NBC analyst Randy Moss views Irap, who will be ridden by Mario Gutierrez, as “the horse to beat.”

“You can make a very strong case that in the Travers, Irap ran as well in defeat as West Coast ran in victory,” said Moss, noting that West Coast was allowed to set comfortable fractions while Irap, breaking far outside, endured a wide trip.

In the $1-million Cotillion, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies that precedes the Pennsylvania Derby, Abel Tasman is an overwhelming favorite for Baffert. She pursues her fourth consecutive Grade 1 win in a streak comprised of the Kentucky Oaks, Acorn and Coaching Club American Oaks. She was established as the 8-5 favorite even though she must leave from post 11 for Smith in a talented field of 12.

“She’s just been golden,” Baffert said.

sports@latimes.com

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