Run at 1 1/16 miles, the Grade 3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park features a contentious group of 3-year-old runners with Kentucky Derby points on the line. This Five Questions for the Robert B. Lewis Stakes features a mix of questions from Twitter users as well as a pair from conversations about the upcoming race. This is the first in the “Five Questions” series for 2019, and as always questions are welcome and can be submitted on Twitter by tagging me, @EmilyOptixEQ.
1. One of the common questions comes into play here with the threat of rain in the forecast: How do you handicap horses that have never raced over an off track?
This question comes up quite a bit when it comes to handicapping wet track. It is important to remember that all wet tracks are not created equal or handled the same even by horses that have run over an off track in the past. Another factor in handicapping the wet track is field size and race shape. A wet track this Saturday in a six-horse field is a much different handicapping puzzle than when the track comes up wet on the first Saturday in May with a full field. In that full field, more horses are likely to race in heavy traffic, in tight between rivals, and forced to take kickback. Those scenarios are not as common in a smaller field like we will have here on Saturday. It is always beneficial to watch the track throughout the early races and upgrade/downgrade certain run styles or lanes. Also keep an eye on which riders are adapting best to the track, that can make a difference as much as a horse can taking on a new surface. There is only one horse in the field with wet-track racing experience: #1 Kid Cantina. For him one of his better races came over that wet track at Del Mar back in November. He ran a “Better Than Looked” race according to OptixNOTES in that fourth-place finish with both traffic and trouble. Even with his ability to handle an off track, he is light on numbers and would need to show a lot more than an affinity for the surface to compete at this level.
2. Will the off track favor the speed of Mucho Gusto?
Based on the last question and the unknown surface on Saturday, I’m going to answer this pace question in a more generic manner. Mucho Gusto does have early speed and he has been on the lead in each of his three races. Joe Talamo, his regular rider, will likely have him back in that position Saturday. That said when it comes to his speed at the route distance, he is not that much faster nor has that much separation on rivals Magnificent McCool or Nolo Contesto. There are also some fitness concerns with this runner as well. He missed some published works in the first part of January and will need to have full strength at this level of competition.
3. “Will Gunmetal Gray continue to improve?” - @StalkingThePace (Steve Clark)
This is one the main questions every horseplayer should be asking with young horses in general, and especially for these continuing on the Derby trail. Gunmetal Gray was all class and much the best to win last time out in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes. He had some pace to run and that assisted him overall making that big move from off the pace to get clear near the wire, finishing in a hand ride. Visually it was an impressive effort, though he will likely need to move forward off that race to compete in the Lewis. He has figures back from when he paired up numbers (OptixFIG) from breaking his maiden and in the Grade 1 American Pharoah Stakes last year. While those numbers were slightly higher than what he ran in the Sham, chances are he will need to show more than those 2-year-old races to continue to progress as a 3-year-old. He has those races to run back to making him a threat against today’s rivals. However, going forward he does need to show that progression from a maturity standpoint to continue to be a threat in this division.
4. “Magnificent McCool? I don’t think he is in the same class as the favorites in here.” - @TRacingLifeMore (Reinier M)
Recent maiden breaker #2 Magnificent McCool will get a stiff class test jumping into a graded stakes in his first race against winners. Following him from his first start at Del Mar this summer, physically he gave the impression he would end up showing his best around two turns on the dirt. The way the racing is in California, 2-year-old dirt routes come up later on the calendar and many horses have to start in turf routes before they can get a main track route race. That looked to be the pattern with him getting a few starts under his belt before that first dirt route at Los Alamitos. He looked capable to move forward with the surface/distance change, however he seemed to remain consistent through those next three starts unable to move forward much and get the first career win. Following those early races he took some time off after his last race in October, returning opening week for his most recent start, the maiden breaking turf route race. The time off and foundation seemed to benefit him. Figure-wise he ran his best career number (OptixFIG) that afternoon. Class is still a question, and one he has to answer here, though he could be a “late bloomer” and just needed the time to mature.
5. “Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, who will it be this year?” - @TVG
It is a tough test for a recent maiden breaker though giving a strong look to #6 Nolo Contesto for trainer John Sadler. This is a lightly raced colt that still has upside making his third start this afternoon. He ran a sneaky good race on debut with legit early trouble finishing fifth, and giving the impression he would continue to move forward and handle a route of ground in the future. At the time of his debut, the Sadler barn was cold and finished the Del Mar fall meet without a win. For him to show run during that cold streak was promising. He backed up that effort with a win in his second start, showing a bit more tactical speed on the stretch-out to a longer distance. He showed enough speed that afternoon to suggest he can keep Mucho Gusto in his sights, and has enough class to pass horses when challenged like he did to beat Omaha Beach last month. He comes into this race with current form and good momentum, as both the barn and rider Rosario are off to solid starts to the meet.
Thanks for reading and as always good luck horseplayers.