Picks and Ponderings's coast-to-coast coverage of three-year-old points races continues here, with the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.
We have already made our visit to sunny Gulfstream in a previous piece, discussing Saturday's Holy Bull Stakes (G2) and the Forward Gal Stakes (G3). We will also have pieces analyzing Saturday's Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct, as well as Sunday's Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita.
This year marks the 80th running of the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Previously the Santa Catalina Stakes, it was renamed in 2007 for Robert B. Lewis (1924-2006). A beer salesman and distributor by trade, Lewis and his wife Beverly (herself a stakes namesake at Los Alamitos) became Thoroughbred owners in 1990. Two of their horses won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes: Silver Charm in 1997, and Charismatic in 1999. Both Silver Charm and Charismatic won the Eclipse Award for Champion Three Year Old Male. They also owned four other Eclipse-winning horses: Timber Country (1994 Champion Two Year Old Male), Serena's Song (1995 Champion Three Year Old Female), Orientate (2002 Champion Sprinter), and Folklore (2005 Champion Two Year Old Female).
The race has been restricted to three-year-olds since 1964. It has produced two Kentucky Derby winners: Ferdinand (1986) and I'll Have Another (2012). This race was also the first stakes win for both Sham (1973), famously second behind Secretariat in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, as well as 1999 Champion Sprinter Artax (1998). In more recent runnings, the 2015 Lewis was a particularly enthralling -- and productive -- edition. Dortmund beat Firing Line by a nose that day after a protracted duel. Three months later, Firing Line finished second in the Kentucky Derby, with Dortmund third.
In the 2015 Robert B. Lewis Stakes, Dortmund and Firing Line have a throwdown for the ages.
The 2018 renewal features a $150,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Derby points (10-4-2-1) to the top four finishers. The race drew a field of nine to contest for those spoils.
Morning lines not available at original publish time. Updated Thursday, February 1 to add morning lines.
Saturday, February 3 - Santa Anita Park
Race 5: Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 2:30pm PST
PEACE faces winners for the first time, but has every right to make good account of himself in his first try in stakes company. After two second-place finishes against maiden company, he broke through last out at Santa Anita. It was his first try going a mile and a sixteenth, and his first with Mike Smith in the saddle. Smith returns to PEACE here. The most baffling thing about PEACE is that he puts blinkers on right after a win. But? It may sharpen his already forward style, and Richard Mandella is one of those trainers who can be trusted making moves that look unorthodox on their faces. With form at Santa Anita, the right connections, the right running style, and the upside of a lightly-raced horse who figured it out at this distance, this space suggests you give PEACE a chance.
AYACARA intrigues at square odds. The worry is the running style, given that he has come from well off the pace in all five of his starts. But, the son of Violence adds blinkers here for a solid enough first-time blinker trainer in Keith Desormeaux, and stretches back out to a mile and a sixteenth. He also gets a solid rider in Kent Desormeaux -- yes, it's a family favour, but Desormeaux is winning 20% of his rides this meet thus far, and hops off a reasonably live horse in LOMBO (so says the longshot writer). Yes, he was well beaten in his only other try at the distance, and his only other try at a mile and a sixteenth -- but, he also doesn't face anyone of the calibre of Bolt d'Oro or Solomini in this spot. Against this class level, AYACARA fits, and he should be the right price to put in the mix.
If PEACE doesn't go off the favourite, SHIVERMETIMBERS will. And, SHIVERMETIMBERS is the most frustrating kind of short-priced horse: the one it's hard to love at chalky odds, but the one who has shown just enough that you can't toss him completely. As fast as anyone here, his forward running style makes him a serious threat. Yet? The only race in which he closed the deal was his maiden win two back, but he was right on the front. It was a contested lead, a positive for him in this spot. Yet, stretch-out sprinter LOMBO threatens to outgun him early. He loses rider Flavien Prat to the aforementioned LOMBO -- but gains Rafael Bejarano, a known top-flight California rider. In short, SHIVERMETIMBERS is the Platonic form of a defensive use.
One brief note about REGULATE. He got a long look, being trainer Bob Baffert's only entry in this race. He's as hard to figure out as anyone in this race. Baffert tends to be live on his home turf, but he has tables to turn on most of these, and comes off a terrible outing against maiden company last out. Though sending REGULATE out in the Lewis sounds like it might be a vote of confidence, he stands to be overbet on the Baffert factor alone, making others more attractive here.
#7 PEACE (3/1)
#1 AYACARA (8/1)
#5 SHIVERMETIMBERS (7/2)
Longshot: #4 LOMBO (5/1) stretches out from a sprint to a route for the first time, and has shown true sprint speed in the maiden ranks. This makes him look like the speed of the speed -- and particularly in a race such as this, which has no chance of falling apart, that makes LOMBO dangerous at Santa Anita. though he loses maiden win rider Kent Desormeaux to AYACARA, he gets an excellent local rider and solid front-end rider in Flavien Prat. And, there's a good chance LOMBO should stretch out to this two-turn distance: his dam Burg Berg is a turf miler by Johannesburg, and Graydar (whose first crop is just three this year) handled nine furlongs with aplomb.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Racecourse. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.