Week 3/10 of the Derby Handicap Contest: Submit your choice of horse up to 20 minutes through this link before the scheduled post time of 4:00pm PST for this race. Read the Contest tab for rules and more information.
In what looks to be a great race this year— I like for there to be 7-8 horses in a field balanced by a tepid favorite and several promising new guns— the Robert B. Lewis Stakes serves as a key prep race for the Santa Anita Derby on the path to the Kentucky Derby. Past winners include major upsetter I’ll Have Another, who taught me it’s best to really look at everyone!
$200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Santa Anita Park. Post Time: Saturday, February 8 at 4:00pm PST (7pm EST).
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Candy Boy - Gary Stevens, 118 lbs, John Sadler - Improving with each race, the Candy Ride [ARG] colt held firmly to the place in the CashCall (I) won by Shared Belief and has already won at this distance. He has just one win in 5 starts, and has been well-beaten by other top western horses in other races (Shared Belief, Tap It Rich). His maiden break at Hollywood was very impressive and he should not be dismissed having been beaten by Shared Belief
2) Diamond Bachelor - Julien Leparoux, 118 lbs, Patrick Biancone - I’m always pretty gung-ho about War Fronts, and apart from being part of the “not a factor” crowd at the Breeders’ Cup, he’s done pretty well with 2 wins and a place. However, all 3 of those were on the grass. Many people have been touting Diamond’s great recent works on Santa Anita’s track, but I’m taking this entry with a serious grain of salt. I’m just not a fan of Leparoux on dirt not to mention this whole trying a great War Front turf horse on dirt thing has not gone well in the past.
3) Midnight Hawk - Mike Smith, 120 lbs, Bob Baffert - The first serious Midnight Lute colt to knock on Derby’s door this season, Midnight Hawk was a formidable winner of the 1-mile Sham Stakes (III) last out on this track after taking his debut handily, romping by 6 lengths. Likely to be the speed of the race and the likely favorite, Baffert-Pegram horses are always class, but I would have more confidence in him if he finished the Sham stronger than he did. He reminds me of Fed Biz at this stage, fast horse that becomes very vulnerable past 7-8 furlongs.
4) Home Run Kitten - Joe Talamo, 118 lbs, David Hofmans - Another year, another batch of Kittens trying to make dirt work out for them! Boasting 2 starts on turf with a game win last out going 6 1/2 over Santa Anita’s green. Home Run Kitten faces an uphill battle jumping into graded stakes company on dirt while stretching out.
5) Cool Samurai - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, John Shirreffs - The Zenyatta connections make a go for the Derby with this son of First Samurai, who broke his maiden back in December going a mile here at Santa Anita over The Admiral, attacking late into a fast pace. Likely to be a key factor in the event of a burning early pace, he’s been working well going long and has yet to have a truly dynamite trip that defines his ability. I reckon he’s better off going longer than this and will be better next out, but it’s promising to see John Shirreffs send out a young one here, especially while boasting a 50% in-the-money finish ratio at Santa Anita.
6) El Nino Terrible - Edwin Maldonado, 118 lbs, Peter Miller - A one-time winner at this distance with 3 total career starts, the Malibu Moon colt exits a wire-to-wire effort last out at this track, and has one breeze since that January 17 race, making him the quickest turn-around of the field. He’ll likely try to break from the outside straight to the front again, but will face Midnight Hawk for that lead.
7) Chitu - Martin Garcia, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The “other” Baffert horse, the Henny Huges colt Chitu is 2-for-2 going 6 furlongs and looks to be ready for the class challenge as a horse who leads or marches behind the leaders. A speedball worthy of the challenge, Chitu’s pedigree couples speed with distance-going with A.P. Indy as his damsire. Nearly all of his recent works have been bullet moves, but he will have to break fast from the outside in his first time at a route and in graded company.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) Candy Boy
3) Cool Samurai
While Midnight Hawk has a very fair shot at prevailing as the morning line favorite, I don’t think he was dominant enough or will have that much of an edge in Saturday’s race to distract me from my real top 3. Candy Boy looks like he has learned quite a bit with each race, and I’m totally okay with that green 2nd in his only dirt start at Santa Anita, as he finished well ahead of the rest of the field and got going well late and looks like he could be a very classy horse… be it on Saturday or at a later date. He ran beautifully from behind despite getting tepid fractions, and I think he could be special. Chitu impressed me physically and I liked his last race where he looked like he still had something left in reserve and made a strong stretch drive… I like him better than his stablemate. Cool Samurai I like only slightly less than Chitu, and chiefly from a pace perspective as this race may very well be full of early speed— that is, if people are interested in chasing Midnight Hawk. If they aren’t, he might be in trouble.
Value Pick: Cool Samurai (6-1 or better) could be overlooked as a closer in a souped-up field with big names.
Contest Wager: Candy Boy