Kentucky Derby hopefuls begin their road to Louisville in the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes [Kentucky Derby]
A field of eight three-year-olds are set to compete in the Grade 2 $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes. Saturday’s 1 1/16 mile race will be run on the dirt at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California.
Bob Baffert, who’s won this race three times, will send out a pair of runners. Liaison and Sky Kingdom both hold impressive resumes.
Liaison, who will make his three-year-old debut on Saturday, is undefeated since breaking his maiden at Santa Anita in October. The Indian Charlie colt is coming off a win in the December 17 Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in which he held off a late run from Jerry Hollendorfer’s Rousing Sermon. Liaison earned his first Grade 1 win by a mere neck over Rousing Sermon. That was the second meeting of the two and Liaison’s second victory in the series. In the pair’s previous start, the ungraded Real Quiet Stakes, Liaison defeated Rousing Sermon by a full neck. Jockey Rafael Bejarano, who has been aboard in all of Liaison’s four starts, will be in the irons on Saturday.
In Rousing Sermon’s six lifetime starts he has never finished off the board. Although he was defeated by Liaison in his last two starts, those losses came over the synthetic surface. Saturday’s race over the dirt may be more appealing. Rousing Sermon’s last victory was in the October 29 Bob Benoit California Cup Juvenile Stakes at 1 1/16 miles over the Santa Anita dirt. With a victory at the distance, on the surface, and at the race track, combined with Rousing Sermon’s impressive near misses against Liaison, he’s certainly one to keep an eye on.
Baffert’s other starter in the Robert B. Lewis is the Empire Maker colt, Sky Kingdom. The colt, owned by Westrock Stables, has two wins in his five lifetime starts, but has otherwise been unable to hit the board. His last victory came three weeks ago in a 1 1/16 mile $58,000 Allowance race at Santa Anita in which he finished 4 ½ lengths in front of his nearest competitor. In his only stakes attempt, he finished fourth behind Liaison and Rousing Sermon in the CashCall Futurity. Sky Kingdom will retain jockey Martin Garcia who has been aboard for both of Sky Kingdom’s previous victories.
Isn’t He Clever, trained by Henry Dominguez and ridden by Corey Nakatani, looks like a tough competitor. The son of 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones won the ungraded Riley Allison Futurity December 30 at Sunland Park by a whopping 11 ¾ lengths. He earned a 99 BRIS speed figure for the effort. Isn’t He Clever has three wins in four starts and won his maiden by nearly 10 lengths. Although Saturday’s race will be his first attempt around two turns, his pedigree and past performances show the distance shouldn’t be a problem.
Rounding out the field are trainer Myung Kwon Cho’s Groovin’ Solo, Doug O’Neil’s I’ll Have Another, Mike Harrington’s Empire Way, and Jeff Mullins’ Chips All In.
The race is the 6th on Santa Anita’s Saturday card with a scheduled post time of 6:05 EST. The race can be seen live on HRTV. Race recap and replay to follow on Monday.
Photo: Courtesy Kentucky Derby