The Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) has been through a few name changes over the years since its origin in 1935 as the Santa Catalina Handicap. Renamed in honor of one of California’s greatest horse owners, the race has showcased aspiring colts and fillies looking to take their next step on the Triple Crown Journey. The Robert B. Lewis Stakes honor roll includes the names of Sham, Ferdinand, Artax, and General Challenge. Not all of them made their presence felt in the Triple Crown races, but they became good horses in their own right. More recently, 2009 Robert B. Lewis Stakes winner Pioneerof the Nile fought his way to a runner-up position in the Kentucky Derby while 2012 and I’ll Have Another captured the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Last year’s R.B. Lewis contenders took a close second and third in the Kentucky Derby behind Pioneerof the Nile’s son, American Pharoah.
This year, a competitive field of seven colts will go to the post in the 1 1/16 mile contest. The winner will earn ten points towards their trip to the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
Bob Baffert has a solid chance to score the exacta in the R.B. Lewis. The top classic horse in his stable right now has to be MOR SPIRIT (Eskendereya – Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union), easy winner of the Los Al Futurity by 1 ¼ lengths over stablemate Toews on Ice. Read his pedigree profile.
Baffert’s other entry LET’S MEET IN RIO (Flatter – Rio Carnival, by Storm Cat) won his maiden two starts ago, besting Lewis contestant Laoban by 1 ½ lengths. The son of Flatter made a huge run from eighth place in the Sham Stakes to place second, beaten by only 1 ¼ lengths by another Baffert horse, Collected. The extra distance should suit Let’s Meet in Rio and Baffert could collect another exacta finish.
Jerry Hollendorfer gives the inexperienced, yet undefeated I WILL SCORE (Roman Ruler – Grassy Nellie, by Belong to Me) a class check. The colt has no blacktype in the first two generations of his distaff line. However, his dam was in the money in 9 of 17 starts as an allowance class runner. Her game was 1 1/16 miles over the lawn. I Will Score has a sprinter/miler pedigree and 1 1/6 miles may be his limit. Besides stepping up in class, he’ll be asked to carry his speed around two turns for the first time. Hollendorfer gave the colt three sharp stamina breezes to equip the son of Roman Ruler for the task.
DRESSED IN HERMES (Hat Trick (JPN) – Elusive Fashion, by Elusive Quality) scratched out of the Sham and will make his first start of the season in the R.B. Lewis. Trained by Janet Armstrong, the colt spent the last three months recording a string of moderate/slow breezes. Dressed in Hermes’ has carved out a nice little career over the lawn as a stakes miler. His initial start was in a dirt sprint where he finished a distant fourth to Exaggerator. Although two of his half siblings won once each over the dirt, Dressed in Hermes’ distaff line is solid turf. The colt should enjoy the extra distance and if he’s kept on the outside away from dirt kickback, he could have a shot at hitting the board.
UNCLE LINO (Uncle Mo – Haysee, by Orientate) has one of the best pedigrees in the field. By a 2YO Champ and leading freshman sire, Uncle Lino is out of an unraced full sister to multiple graded stakes heroine Lady Joanne. Her greatest accomplishment was a victory in the Alabama (G1) at 1 ¼ miles. Haysee is a half-sister to Preakness Stakes winner and new sire Shackleford, plus multiple graded stakes winners Afleeting Lady and Baghdaria. After winning his maiden, Uncle Lino placed third by a short neck to I Will Score in an optional claiming race. The Gary Sherlock trainee posted three stamina breezes, including a sharp pre-race 5F move. Uncle Lino should enjoy the extra distance and should be considered for the exotics.
With six starts under his girth, PATH OF DAVID (Istan – Rimini Road, by Dynaformer) is the most experienced, and only gelding in the field. Slow to mature, Path of David showed little in his first two races, both dirt sprints. He found his home on the turf and has finished in the money in all four starts, including a last out victory in the Eddie Logan. Path of David is a full brother to the multiple graded stakes placed Antigun, who was third in the 2012 Belmont Stakes. Antigun won over dirt and turf and improved as a three and four-year-old. If Path of David is anything like his big brother, he may handle dirt now that he’s a little older and maturing.
LAOBAN (Uncle Mo – Chattertown, by Speightstown) is still a maiden after three starts at a straight mile. Let’s Meet in Rio got the best of him in both meetings. After finishing second to his rival and in the process, blowing a five length lead in a maiden race, Laoban switched running styles in the Sham Stakes. The Eric Guillot trainee was in tight in the early stages and made a four-wide move, but didn’t make up much ground in the stretch. Laoban finished third in the Sham Stakes, 2 ¾ lengths behind Collected. Laoban has plenty of sprint attributes in his pedigree and may be more competitive at shorter distances. Laoban’s dam is a stakes placed sprinter. She’s a half to That’s How I Roll, a stakes winning sprinter and to Santa Ysabel Stakes runner-up Bluegrass Chatter. The second dam Chatter is a multiple stakes winning sprinter and she’s a half to the dam of Grade 1 winning veteran I’m a Chatterbox.
Track bias: Pace pressers earn the lion’s share of awards over the Santa Anita dirt.
Eight of the last eleven R.B. Lewis heroes prepped in a graded stakes and only one of them didn’t hit the board in their previous start. I dislike being one of those handicappers who always goes with the obvious favorite, but Mor Spirit is again the one to beat here. I picked him over his stablemate in the Los Al. Watching videos of Mor Spirit’s morning works, I observed that the colt has a good mind. He can gallop along on a long rein despite having fractious horses to his inside. That kind of attitude wins races. I Will Score has a ton of early speed and looks like the early pacesetter, or he may duel with Uncle Lino. Unless he can conserve his natural speed, I Will Score might fade, but have to include based on connections. Uncle Lino has the best pedigree in the field, but like I Will Score, he needs to prove that he can sit off of horses successfully as races get longer. Let’s Meet in Rio will most likely sit at the back of the pack and will take aim around the second turn. He has a good late kick and can create another Baffert exacta, if given the right trip by Kenty D. Path of David and Dressed in Hermes need to prove they will handle the dirt. Laoban could find the distance too far in this company.
#5 MOR SPIRIT
#1 LET’S MEET IN RIO
#7 UNCLE LINO
#2 I WILL SCORE