Kentucky Derby Preview Series – The Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis – By Eric Solomon

There’s another five horse field for a Derby Points race in Southern California. We saw five horses compete in the Sham Stakes last month, and while no Derby points were offered for the San Vicente last week, that race also drew a small field of five. As has been the case with most of the three year old races out here, Bob Baffert is represented by more than one horse, sending out both Messier and Wharton for the same ownership conglomerate of SF Racing, Starlight Racing and Madaket Stables. This team won the Sham with Newgrange, but came up short with their trio last weekend. I think both of their runners might be a bit vulnerable this afternoonl. 

 

Santa Anita Park Sunday  2/6/2022, Race 8: The Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes

17 Total Derby points (10/4/2/1)

 

 

1 – Messier (6-5 ML, 65-1 Circa, 20-1 C/WH): The morning line favorite is coming off a second place finish to Slow Down Andy in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity in December. Baffert removes the blinkers, which he wore for three of his four career races. He took them off for the Grade 3 Bob Hope at Del Mar two starts back, which was probably his best career effort. He relaxed off the early pace that day and powered past Forbidden Kingdom, who was the winner of the San Vicente last weekend. It’s interesting to note that regular rider, Flavien Prat, opts to ride Sir London in this race. He’s pretty much been riding first call for Baffert lately, and he rode this horse in his last three starts. Getting John Velazquez to ride is certainly a fine backup plan, and perhaps Prat is trying to keep his Derby options open, as it seems like there’s been no headway on having a Baffert trained horse in the starting gate for the Derby at this point. I’m not sure he’ll get the best set up in this small field, so I’m not willing to take a short price on him.

2 – Sir London (9-5 ML, 70-1, Circa): As mentioned above, the presence of Prat on this horse, who has only ridden 19 times over the last 13 months for Simon Callaghan, means something to me. This horse was a $700K purchase in May of 2021, so clearly the potential was there for this son of Malibu Moon. He came up short, finishing second in his first two races, which were both sprints. He improved at two turns last out, beating a modest maiden special weight field at Los Alamitos by ten lengths. He’s worked several times over the local course, while improving of late. He looks like he could be the lone speed in this race, and I believe he has the ability to carry this field from gate to wire. 

3 – Cabo Spirit (8-1 ML, 500-1, Circa): I got burned in the Sham Stakes when taking a horse (Mackinnon) going from turf to dirt, which is what this winner of the Eddie Logan Stakes last month is trying to do today. He ran three times on the main track and was defeated by a Bob Baffert horse in each start. He ran much better races when switching to the turf. He’s improved in each of his last four starts while racing on the grass, but this is a logical time to try the main track once more. There is a smaller stakes race for three year olds in two weeks here, which he could theoretically come back for if he doesn’t run well here. This race carries a purse that’s twice that of the Pasadena Stakes on the 19th, so I can’t blame his connections for trying the dirt with this compact group. I do think the others are better suited for this race though. 

4 – Wharton (4-1 ML, 55-1, Circa): He’s the other Baffert horse in here, coming off a debut win in a 6 and ½ furlong maiden special weight here on New Year’s Eve. He does have some speed and could be pressuring Sir London for the early lead here. However, I thought pressuring the early leader was going to be the gambit Baffert was going to use last weekend with his less heralded entrant, and that was not the case. He’s sired by Candy Ride, but his dam, Her Smile did her best work in sprints, never winning a two turn race in her career. While Baffert has great numbers with horses going from sprint to routes, Velazquez moves to his A horse in this race with Prat opting for a non-Baffert runner. Again, I don’t have anything against using Juan Hernandez, because I think he is a very talented rider, but Prat going elsewhere suggests to me that these are not the best three year old horses in the Baffert barn at the moment. 

5 – Happy Jack (6-1 ML, 100-1, Circa): Doug O’Neill opted to skip this race with Slow Down Andy, so he sends out this recent maiden winner here instead. He’s a son of Preakness winner, Oxbow, out of a Tapit mare, so I do believe that he’ll be able to handle the transition to a two turn race. He beat the highly touted Bletchley Park two weeks ago in a six furlong sprint here when making his debut. He worked once since and wheels right back in a race where I think he could sit a good stalking trip, just off Sir London. If Abel Cedillo is able to keep Messier pinned in along the rail with him, I think he has a shot of getting close to my top pick in the stretch. 

The verdict: Top Picks: 2-5-1

Bob Baffert has not shied away from entering his three year olds in full force in these Derby Points races, despite the fact that his horses aren’t currently eligible to earn those points. He won the Sham with Newgrange, who he would ship to Arkansas to take home the top prize in the Southwest (which featured a purse that was 375% higher than this race). Messier was unable to win in his two turn debut at Los Alamitos last time out. At this point, he looks like a very nice horse, but not a spectacular horse. Perhaps the long stretch and the three wide trip did him in, however, Slow Down Andy was very green, and I would have expected Messier to be able to take advantage of that and pull back in front. In this spot, I like that Prat ends up on Sir London, when he could have easily been back aboard Messier. I think Sir London has the best speed and the tactical advantage over the favorite. If Wharton is aggressive on the stretch out, I think Sir London does have the ability to rate, while still securing a better spot than Messier. I think he’s the one to beat in this race. I do believe that Happy Jack has some upside in his second career start. This is a quick turnaround, but clearly he’s doing well at the moment. He showed that he was comfortable relaxing off the lead when sprinting last out, and I think that would be his best trip in this spot today.

 

Each week, we’ll have an update on horses and races from the previous week that may produce starters for the 148th Kentucky Derby on May 7th, 2022. Current futures odds from Circa or Caesars-William Hill will be provided as they are available. Feel free to reach out on Twitter @EricSolomon718.

Leave a Reply

Further reading