Friday, February 7, 2014

Robert B. Lewis Stakes - a key prep for the Santa Anita Derby

Midnight Hawk preps for the Robert B. Lewis S. at Santa Anita.

Saturday's Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes is one of the key prep races for the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 5. It also has a long tradition as the first steppingstone of the year on the Southern California derby trail, the next one being the San Felipe Stakes on March 8. The last horse to pull off a Robert B. Lewis-San Felipe-Santa Anita Derby triple was Pioneer of the Nile, trained by Bob Baffert, in 2009. Pioneer of the Nile went on to finish second to Mine That Bird in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. He finished 11th in the Preakness before being retired in July 2009 due to a soft tissue injury.

The Robert B. Lewis Stakes is for 3-year-olds at a mile and a sixteenth. The race was inaugurated as the Santa Catalina Handicap in 1935, and after a series of condition and distance tweaks it officially became the Santa Catalina Stakes in 1964. It was renamed in 2007 to honor prominent racehorse owner Robert B. Lewis following his death in 2006.

Lewis, who was born in Minneapolis and raised in Glendale, California, owned Foothill Beverage Co., one of the largest Anheuser-Busch distributors in the country. He was an active philanthropist as well as a highly esteemed racehorse owner. A founding director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, Lewis served as chairman of that organization from 1997-2001. He and his wife Beverly bought their first Thoroughbreds in 1990 and subsequently raced many great horses including champion and 1995 Preakness winner Timber Country and Eclipse Award champions Serena's Song,  Silver Charm, Charismatic, Orientate and Folklore. More importantly, he was beloved in California Thoroughbred racing for his graciousness, generosity, and sportsmanship. His trainer, Bob Baffert, once called him "a very gracious winner and a very gracious loser."

The Robert B. Lewis is well established as an important prep race for the Santa Anita Derby. In addition to Pioneer of the Nile, winners of both stakes include Sham (1973), An Act (1976), Larry the Legend (1995), General Challenge (1999), The Deputy (2000), Brother Derek (2006), and I'll Have Another (2012).

Once again, Derby fever is heating up in California as all eyes turn toward Saturday's Robert B. Lewis Stakes. This weekend marks the opening of pool #2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, just one of the many types of Kentucky Derby bets that can be made on track as well as online. Robert B. Lewis contender Midnight Hawk, pictured above and trained by Bob Baffert, is likely to take some heavy action in those pools.

The Lewis will be run as the eighth race on a nine-race card. The complete field with jockeys and weights in post position order: Candy Boy, Gary Stevens, 118; Diamond Bachelor, Julien Leparoux, 118; Midnight Hawk, Mike Smith, 120; Home Run Kitten, Joe Talamo, 118; Cool Samurai, Corey Nakatani, 118; El Nino Terrible, Edwin Maldonado, 118, and Chitu, Martin Garcia, 118.