After a couple of light weeks, the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” heats back up on Saturday afternoon with ten qualifying points going to the winner of the Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park, the Withers at Aqueduct and the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita.
The Lewis has propelled plenty of young three-year-olds onto bigger and better things over the years. Sham and Ferdinand are among the list of winners when the race was called the Santa Catalina Stakes. More recently, 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner and eventual champion three-year-old male I’ll Have Another, as well as 2015 Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund and 2017 Met Mile victor Mor Spirit found the wire first in the mile and a sixteenth event over the main track.
On paper to date, this year’s field does not appear to have a superstar on the level of the horses listed above, but the $150,000 Grade 3 race did draw a field of 9 led by #5 Shivermetimbers and #7 Peace, two of the 360 three-year-olds nominated to the Triple Crown. For FREE Ultimate PPs of all Triple Crown nominees, CLICK HERE.
Shivermetimbers ran third in his first two starts sprinting over the Santa Anita main track, but took to the increased distance on November 23rd at Del Mar when he got the best of Peace by a head to earn his first career win. The son of Shanghai Bobby came back in the Grade 3 Sham in early January, but tired badly late after stalking the pace in the early going.
I respect the consistency that Shivermetimbers has shown thus far, as well as his tactical speed and ability to get two turns, but I prefer the upside of Peace.
The $280,000 son of Violence displayed his talent on first asking when he came from well off the pace to finish second to Bob Baffert conditioned Mourinho in a six furlong dash back on September 30th. Anytime a Richard Mandella trainee performs this well on debut it is worth noting since the Hall of Fame conditioner rarely has his horses set for anywhere near their best in their initial start.
Mandella gave Peace two months off after his first effort and brought him back in the aforementioned special weight event won by Shivermetimbers. The two colts battled to the wire with neither giving an inch, but the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee got the best of things.
Peace rebounded from the tough defeat five weeks later under a patient ride from Mike Smith to beat a strong maiden group by three-quarters of a length in the end.
I expect Peace to move forward in his first start of 2018 on Saturday in the Robert B. Lewis. He draws towards the outside, which should allow Smith to stalk a few lengths off the early pace and make his run for the lead when they turn for home. He comes into the race off a series of steady maintenance drills since his maiden breaking score and Mandella adds blinkers for the first time.
It is time for the Spendthrift Farm colt to show why I am the only member on the kentuckyderby.com expert panel to have him in my 2018 Kentucky Derby Top 10.
I am not sure if the rest of the field for the Robert B. Lewis is good enough to defeat the top two choices on odds maker John White’s morning line, but there are a few colts that interest me underneath Peace in the exotics.
#6 Inscom has run extremely well over the lawn in his last 4 starts after failing miserably at odds of 4-5 in his lone try on the dirt back in early September. He may simply prefer the sod, but I am willing to give him another chance on the main track. Tyler Baze picks up the mount with Flavian Prat opting to ride #4 Lombo.
#8 Regulate must have come out of his last maiden special weight race extremely well since Bob Baffert wheels him back so quickly after that sixth place effort on January 19th. The Juddmonte Farms homebred was highly regarded by many, but has yet to run a race good enough to compete with the major contenders in this spot. On paper he appears too slow, but I do not see his Hall of Fame conditioner trying stakes company on Saturday if this son of Quality Road is not ready for a career best performance.
Finally, #3 Dark Vader has not been seen since a game effort to break his maiden at Los Alamitos in mid-December. His races thus far are not fast enough to compete with the likes of Shivermetimbers and Peace, but he has trained well since his last start and could pick up the pieces for trainer Peter Eurton.
Here are my suggested wagers for the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis:
#7 to win at odds of 3-to-1 or higher
Trifecta Key: 7 with 3+5+6+8
Superfecta Wheels: 7 with 5 with 3+6+8 with 3+6+8 & 7 with 3+6+8 with 5 with 3+6+8
Good luck at the windows!
Scott Shapiro is Brisnet.com’s Southern California handicapper; follow him on Twitter @ScottShap34