The $150,000 Robert B. Lewis (G2) at Santa Anita is the first premiere prep race for California-based 3-year-olds and Saturday’s edition will feature a top Kentucky Derby hopeful in Mor Spirit, winner of the December 19 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).
The 1 1/16-mile Lewis was the launching point in 2012 for I’ll Have Another, who rolled to a 2 ¾-length decision at 43-1 odds in his first outing since an unplaced effort in the Hopeful S. (G1) at Saratoga. The Doug O’Neill trained colt went on to capture the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) in his next three starts and was named champion 3-year-old male.
Formerly called the Santa Catalina, the race was renamed for prominent owner/breeder Bob Lewis in 2007.
Other notables Lewis winners include 1986 Kentucky Derby victor Ferdinand; future sprint champion Artax; multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire General Challenge; and Pioneerof the Nile, who went on to finish second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and is perhaps best known as the sire of American Pharoah.
However, the most thrilling edition I’ve ever seen occurred last year when Dortmund and Firing Line hooked up in an epic showdown. It marked the second meeting between the top-class colts and is easily remembered as one of the best races of 2015.
In their first match-up, December’s Los Alamitos Futurity, Dortmund had the benefit of an allowance race under him, shipping to Churchill Downs to record a scintillating 7 ¾-length decision, and was able to edge past last-out maiden winner Firing Line in deep stretch at Los Alamitos.
The sophomores were on more equal footing entering the Lewis but Dortmund continued to receive the lion’s share of the win pool, with bettors hammering him down to 3-5. Firing Line left the starting gate as the 9-5 second choice.
Dortmund showed good speed from the start, taking a short lead on the backstretch, and Firing Line raced about a length back in third after the opening half-mile of the Lewis. But Firing Line advanced to challenge Dortmund entering the far turn and the battle was on. After going head-and-head through the bend, Firing Line appeared to be inching away from his rival while keeping Dortmund tight along the rail entering the stretch drive.
Just when it appeared Firing Line had the upperhand, Dortmund battled back gamely and it was nip and tuck the rest of the way, with Dortmund getting his head down on the wire.
Firing Line gained a measure of revenge in the Kentucky Derby, outfinishing Dortmund for runner-up honors behind American Pharoah, and the possibility exists these warriors could meet again as older horses.
Dortmund provided Bob Baffert with a record fifth Lewis win and the Hall of Fame trainer will be seeking a sixth on Saturday with Mor Spirit.
2015 Lewis photo courtesy of Benoit Photo