Race of the Week – The Robert B. Lewis Stakes

sa for lewis

Stop two on the Road to Kentucky takes us out west, as Santa Anita hosts the Robert B. Lewis stakes on Saturday. The field size is not overwhelming, but have many been recently at the Great Race Place? There is still some quality to it, but this race in recent times has only one key winner: I’ll Have Another. He was a big upset in the Lewis a couple of years ago and represented its resurgence as a prep despite most of its recent victors either not making the big dance or tasting hefty defeat. More than anything, it hands us one of the favorites for the Santa Anita Derby in a couple of months. Some glitzy names like Artax have cashed in the former Santa Catalina, but even he was at his best sprinting. The good California two year olds are not in attendance for this edition either, as sometimes has been the case in the past. The Brother Derek & Declan’s Moon types that carried their talent over into the young months of their three year old year are not in this bunch, so perhaps a legitimate Kentucky Derby horse will be in its gate. However, on paper these aren’t exactly the cream YET, so when betting the Future Wager this weekend do not accept an outrageously short number.

The likely favorite is Midnight Hawk, but unlike some other stakes in California his trainer Bob Baffert doesn’t really have a stranglehold on the Lewis. Baffert also trains the talented Chitu, but is asking a lot more questions of the latter than the former as far as distance and class go. The reason I mention Baffert is that his maidens are a yardstick for a good part of this field considering how many have faced them. Shall we?

1. #5 Cool Samurai – I am a tiny bit of a Shirreffs apologist, but in offering an alternative to the favorite here it is. He has no glitzy stakes credentials to draw from, but honestly he had no business winning his maiden special weight. The horse was SOAKED prior to the race and although very much on his toes it was not a sweltering day outside. He still came with quite the head of steam to mow down dueling pacesetter and very well-bet/regarded Baffert charge The Admiral. He is the aforementioned yardstick, as he has lost to his stablemate #7 Chitu in start one (a sprint), then to ‘Samurai, then to #6 El Nino Terrible. The race he truly showed us what he’s got though, was the narrow loss to our subject horse and that wasn’t all that bad. This is a rare move for a rather conservative barn as well. In five years, he’s put five horses into stakes fresh out of their maiden win (four at a route):

• Mentor Cane ran 4th in the King’s Bishop at 3-1

• Blingo ran 6th in the CashCall at 6-1

• Battle Force ran 3rd in the Generous at Even Money

• Omega Star ran 2nd in the California Breeders’ Challenge at 4-5

• Star Billing won the Senorita at 8-1

The margin of defeat or victory in each of these races was less than three lengths. No matter what the odds, distance is always a Shirreffs trainee’s friend. There will be comparing of final furlong (he did come home faster than the goofball we’ll get into next), variant, etc. but the point is they’re all up against it trying to beat….

2. #3 Midnight Hawk – I don’t need to dig all that deep for the many reasons this horse will win, but if he doesn’t crack the exacta it should pay balloons. He’s completely homebred, being by Pegram’s prize sprinter Midnight Lute out of a big gray tank looking thing named Miss Wineshine (if memory serves, I was young.) The names that fill his owner line are well known to Midwest sports fans, and the horse is a perfect 2 for 2. The fact that he IS a homebred may also allow for learning experience rather than instant results, so I am not sold that the screws are fully cranked for this one. There’s also the issue of his being green in the stretch, but that’s something that should work itself out shortly. He beat three horses on talent alone last time; let’s see if he steps it up again.

3. #4 Home Run Kitten — I’ll throw this weirdo into it simply because they don’t do it very often in the Hofmans stable. Talamo gave this one a beautiful ride to win down the hill, but those conditions and that field quite frankly set it up nicely for him. There’s still plenty of blood to get the distance but of course there is a reason this horse has only run on the turf. This camp has not started a horse in a graded stake since 2011, but if the setting is right (and it very well could be here) they can get a sniff at a price.

I’d be leaving out an obvious contender in #1 Candy Boy by not mentioning him, but the value simply will not be there on a horse that’s coming in with a bit of rust. For some reason John Sadler is having a sub-par meet with thrice as many runner-up finishes as wins; he has also racked up 43 losses off a layoff of 45+ days in graded stakes the past couple of years. That fact aside, his horses still get bet and anything Gary Stevens hops aboard follows suit. He was whacked by Shared Belief but he’s far from the only one in that boat. Thing is, there’s other three year olds that come to mind when you think Sadler before this one (Kristo, Kobe’s Back….) so is 2-1 really fair? That’s pretty close to what you’ll get on Saturday. Nice horse, but pass.

That’s how I see the Lewis…..catch up with both Canterbury Park and myself on Twitter for more thoughts on SA Saturday and all the details on the Road to Kentucky! Good luck!

by Angela Hermann

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