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Last year’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes (II) yielded the speedy Tapizar, so who can we expect to emerge (or continue to grow) as one of the west’s top Derby hopefuls this time? Bob Baffert has a very strong one-two punch with CashCall Futurity (I) winner Liasion [pictured] making a return along with the budding Sky Kingdom. Top trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will send out Rousing Sermon with the hope that the third time’s the charm in beating Liasion.
$200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Santa Anita Park. Post Time: Saturday, February 4 at 3:05pm PST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Isn’t He Clever - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, Henry Dominguez -A nice little Smarty Jones gelding occupies the rail, sporting a record of 3 wins in 4 starts (the other being a 2nd in a Remington Park stakes). He’ll be stretching out here with new rider Nakatani. While he’s been king of the hill so far in his career, will it last as he moves into more serious company? Don’t count him out, considering his last stakes win at Sunland Park was by a whopping 11 3/4 lengths over six furlongs!
2) Liasion - Rafael Bejarano, 123 lbs, Bob Baffert - Likely to be a favorite, Liasion sported bulldog tenacity and that Indian Charlie speed while winning the CashCall Futurity (I) last out over the same distance at Hollywood Park. He won by a mere neck over Rousing Sermon, but was game every step of the way and worked :48 over 4 furlongs handily over the dirt recently. He can do this distance and is well prepared, but can he afford to sacrifice a whole 5 pounds to Rousing Sermon coming out of stall 2 to boot?
3) Groovin’ Solo - Victor Espinoza, 118 lbs, Myung Kwon Cho -Pulled up in the CashCall due to a broken rein, we never got to see what this Bob and John colt can really do just yet. He nabbed a nice maiden special weight win at Santa Anita over a mile back in late December, so gusto this pace stalker has. Again, class is his biggest question, but he’s been topping recent workers with a 5-furlong blowout in :58 2/5 and appears to favor the Santa Anita dirt at this distance.
4) I’ll Have Another - Mario Gutierrez, 118 lbs, Doug O’Neill -A Flower Alley son backed by the powerful Arch influence on his dam’s side, he was 6th last out way back in September in the Hopeful (I) and before that was 2nd in the Best Pal (II). O’Neill’s been warming up to the big distances, with a recent 7-furlong work in 1:26 at Hollywood. An okay horse who hasn’t raced in a while, O’Neill is testing him out as a refreshed three-year-old who will hopefully improve significantly.
5) Sky Kingdom - Martin Garcia, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert -One of my keen favorites this year, this Empire Maker colt trades the injured Gomez for the experienced Martin Garcia in the irons after a “public workout” allowance win January 12 by 4 1/2 lengths. He had traffic trouble before then in the CashCall (I) where he placed fourth. Working 5 furlongs in :58 2/5 handily, he’s ready to step up his game after that confidence booster. With the dangerous Garcia-Baffert double, he could be game for an upset here.
6) Rousing Sermon - Joe Talamo, 118 lbs, Jerry Hollendorfer - No doubt this chestnut son of Lucky Pulpit will go off as the favorite. While he was second to Liasion in the CashCall (I), it was only by a short neck after he ran six wide around the turn. His works have been good, his trainer’s record here among the best, and his outside post is far better than Liasion’s spot at #2. Rousing Sermon looks very fit to win.
7) Empire Way - Joel Rosario, 118 lbs, Mike Harrington - Royal Delta’s gray brother, he was probably a short horse in the CashCall and Hollywood Prevue (I), where he finished 5th and 6th respectively, the former where he started his bid late after going six-wide around the turn. Worked a strong 6 furlongs in 1:14 4/5, Rosario is back at his Santa Anita stomping grounds and has no excuse to not bring this colt closer to the front with an outside stall.
8) Chips All In - Alonso Quinonez, 118 lbs, Jeff Mullins - With 5 starts all at different tracks, this shipper makes his second start at Santa Anita following his win there in the ungraded Eddie Logan— a turf race— by 1 1/2 lengths. He’s won on every surface already and is a game stretch runner. An odd entry and a big step up in class, nonetheless, he’ll be one to watch out of sheer curiosity.
Predicted Trifecta: 1) Rousing Sermon 2) Sky Kingdom 3) Liasion
Value Picks: Isn’t He Clever and Empire Way