Newgate gallops Jan. 28 (Ernie Belmonte/Past The Wire)
By Ashley Tamulonis
For the second weekend in a row, Santa Anita offers a graded stake dominated by Bob Baffert. Last week Baffert saddled three of the four runners in the San Vicente (G2); he had a fourth entrant but chose to scratch Gilmore. This week, the $200,000, Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes drew just four entrants, all trained by The Silver Fox himself.
The Robert B. Lewis is the second race on the Santa Anita Road to the Kentucky Derby and offers a total of 40 points (20-8-6-4-2) to the top five runners. However, due to Churchill Downs, Inc.’s ban on Baffert, none of these colts are eligible to receive any points. That does not necessarily render this race completely irrelevant, however. Depending on how each colt performs will be a good indication of which runners will potentially be transferred to other trainers in order to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. That process must be completed by February 28, 2023.
At this point in the year, Newgate appears to be the most likely Kentucky Derby candidate in the field. Though he has performed admirably in graded company, he has repeatedly come up short against some of his stablemates. While he seems to be well-spotted here, you cannot dismiss his stablemates’ chances.
Arabian Lion drew the rail and will have John Velazquez aboard. A son of Triple Crown winner Justify, Arabian Lion looked excellent in his debut, taking the field gate-to-wire in the 6-furlong race to win by 3 lengths. He dropped the proverbial ball in his last two races, finishing second in a 7-furlong optional claimer by ¾-length and fifth in the 1 1/16-mile Los Alamitos Futurity (G2), beaten by 12 lengths. He was the favorite in both races. All his Brisnet speed ratings are in the 90’s, including the 98 he earned in his second start, which is tied for the highest rating in the field. Arabian Lion’s last race was in mid-December, so he’s had a bit of time to mature. Baffert is winning at a 32% clip with horses coming off a 46-90 day layoff and at a 28% rate with beaten favorites.
Newgate is the class of the field and will have Frankie Dettori in the irons for the second race in a row. A son of Into Mischief, Newgate debuted a winner and has raced exclusively in graded stakes since then. In his graded debut, he finished 4th in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) behind his talented stablemates Cave Rock and Havnameltdown, who was victorious in last week’s San Vicente (G2). He was then fifth in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) before finishing a close second to stablemate Havnameltdown in the Bob Hope (G3) and to Reincarnate in the Sham (G3). He received a 98 Brisnet speed rating for his neck loss in the Sham, the highest last race speed rating and tied for the best overall dirt speed. While he’s been knocking at the graded stakes door, this looks to be his best shot to date to nab that elusive graded win.
As a maiden, Worcester is the outlier of the field. He debuted here at Santa Anita in late December, finishing a non-threatening fourth behind stablemate Faustin in a 6-furlong contest. He wheeled back just shy of three weeks later to run a solid second to stablemate Hejazi. His Brisnet speed rating jumped from an 81 in his debut to a 96 in his second start. However, this will be his first attempt at two turns, but, as a son of Empire Maker and a Super Saver mare, he may improve with the added distance. Regular jockey Juan Hernandez retains the mount, and Hernandez and Baffert have been winning at a 32% clip together.
Stakes winner Hard to Figure completes the field. A son of Hard Spun and out of the Mr. Greeley mare Ani La, Hard to Figure began his career with back-to-back third-place finishes. He lost his debut by 4 ½-lengths to stablemate Newgate and lost his second start to another stablemate, Carmel Road, by 11 lengths. He got the monkey off his back in his third start, winning the restricted Capote Stakes by three lengths. Last out he was a well-beaten 5th in the Bob Hope (G3) behind stablemates Havnameltdown and Newgate. He earned a career-best 85 Brisnet speed rating in the Capote, which, while decent, isn’t good enough to beat the others in the field. Baffert puts the blinkers back on Hard to Figure, an angle at which the trainer is succeeding at a 23% clip. Ramon Vazquez, who was aboard in the Capote, has the call.
Arabian Lion and Hard to Figure will likely both try for the lead with Newgate and Worcester tucked in behind them. Because Baffert can’t lose no matter what happens on the track, an interesting scenario pops up. Either they all run lights out and the winner is the one that survives the pace, or they pick up a moderate tempo with a sprint to the finish in the stretch. Considering that it’s the beginning of February and we’re playing the long game here, I expect to see a moderate tempo. However, if Arabian Lion and Hard to Figure try to set too easy of a pace, then Frankie Dettori has the option to push the “go” button and let Newgate make his own race.
The Robert B. Lewis is the third race on the ten-race card on Saturday with an approximate post time of 4:00 p.m. EST.