A field of nine newly turned 3-year-olds, none to have yet reached the winner’s circle as a stakes winner, will line up and face the starter in Saturday’s $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita, the second main prep on the Southern California racing calendar with implications for the first Saturday in May, as the winner will collect 10 valuable points toward making the starting gate under the Twin Spires.
In 2007, the Santa Anita Derby (GI)/Kentucky Derby (GI) prep once known as the Santa Catalina Stakes was renamed the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GIII) to honor one of the most beloved owners in the game of thoroughbred racing who passed away the year before. The familiar green and yellow silks representing Lewis and his wife Beverly and created in homage to the pair’s alma mater, the University of Oregon, were carried by some of the most accomplished runners of the past two decades, including dual classic winners Silver Charm and Charismatic (also the 1999 Horse of the Year), champions Serena’s Song, Orientate and Folklore, just to name a few.
The Robert B. Lewis was held for the first time in Santa Anita’s inaugural season as the Santa Catalina in 1935 and, since then, some pretty familiar names have had their photo taken after reaching the wire in front, including Sham and Ferdinand and, most recently, top sire Pioneerof the Nile and dual classic winner I’ll Have Another.
A year ago, Royal Mo won the Lewis before finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) and, though he didn’t earn enough points to make the gate for the Kentucky Derby, he was considered a legit contender for the Preakness Stakes (GI) before injury ended his career.
Saturday’s weather in Arcadia will be unseasonably warm, with highs in the low-80s. The main track is likely to be fast and the turf course firm as there’s been no rain in the area for weeks and none forecasted for several more days.
Spendthrift Farm and Town and Country Racing LLC’s Peace, from the first crop of Violence, finished second behind both stakes winner Mourinho (Smarty Jones at Oaklawn two weeks ago) and today’s rival Shivermetimbers before breaking his maiden at today’s distance by a half-length in a pace-stalking performance. Overall, his speed and pace figures rank among the best in Saturday’s field and it doesn’t hurt that Mike Smith returns after being aboard last out. His post position of seven shouldn’t be a problem and with speed expected in front of him, it’s easy to expect another stalking trip.
Mark Dedomenico and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Shivermetimbers returns to stakes company off a fourth-place finish behind the highly regarded McKinzie in the Sham Stakes (GI) four weeks ago, though he did have some trouble and steadied in the lane that day. Since then, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained son of Shanghai Bobby, who was a $170,000 Keeneland September yearling buy, has been training steadily over the Santa Anita main track, even though his morning works haven’t been exactly sizzling. He seems to prefer to be up near the engine in the early going, which jockey Rafael Bejarano should easily accomplish from post five. He’s never earned a Brisnet speed figure below 90 in his four-race career, which is consistent with many of the stakes-bound 3-year-olds this time of year, and a clean trip may be all he needs to get the win here.
The very expensive Inscom, an $850,000 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-old purchase, carries some solid connections in owner Kaleem Shah and trainer Simon Callaghan. The son of Distorted Humor and the Lemon Drop Kid mare Lemon Kiss (who sold in foal to Inscom for $1.325 million to Town and Country Farms, which, ironically, is represented as owners here with Peace) is certainly bred to appreciate the stretch-out and, aside from his debut debacle in September, has been improving with each start (from a numbers standpoint), though all have been on turf. Back on the main track, he has a lot to prove, but his best from off the pace could earn him a larger share of the pot.
Stakes-placed Ayacara, who leads the field to post, gets blinkers and the return of jockey Kent Desormeaux. He also returns to the main track after an all-weather and then a turf start, but he did break his maiden on the dirt last summer. He’s just very unpredictable, so watch the tote board for clues.
Pepe Tono returns off an eye-opening last-to-first maiden score two weeks ago and is one who will like a decent early pace. Eclipse winner Evin Roman is back and though Pepe will need to show improvement in his first start against winners, he picked a good spot to test stakes company.
Lombo makes his first start against winners as well after breaking his maiden last out in his third start. He stretches out for the first time and may be in a tough spot under Flavien Prat.
Dark Vader is coming off a maiden $40,000 win. Though his last Brisnet speed figure fits here, he’s got to show more consistency to expect a win under Stuart Elliott.
Bob Baffert, who has won this race six times, sends out the maiden Regulate. If we throw out his last and focus on his second-place finish to Peace at the end of December, he fits with this bunch. Regular jockey Joe Talamo returns on the son of Quality Road.
Blame the Rider hasn’t come close to winning and seems in a difficult spot here.