Technically speaking, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert doesn’t win every edition of the Grade 3, $100,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita Park. It only seems that way.
Baffert has won this 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race seven times overall, including four times since 2013. Last year, he saddled Mucho Gusto, who took the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational just last week, to win by 4 ¾ lengths.
When the 2020 Robert B. Lewis is contested on Feb. 1, there’s a strong chance Baffert will wind up in the winner’s circle yet again. His two entrants, #2 Thousand Words and #5 High Velocity, are the most accomplished runners in this small field and stand a strong chance to run 1-2.
Thousand Words has already earned acclaim as a top contender for the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. A son of Pioneerof the Nile (the sire of Baffert’s 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah), Thousand Words sold for a hefty $1 million as a yearling. Expectations were clearly high for Thousand Words when he debuted in a sprint at Santa Anita on Oct. 26, and the well-bred youngster delivered with a determined victory over the capable Thunder Code.
Thousand Words subsequently stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity, where he again showed the grit and competitive spirit of a top-class racehorse. Wearing blinkers for the first time, Thousand Words pressed stablemate High Velocity through fast early fractions, then dug deep to hold off race favorite and Grade 1 TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Anneau d’Or to prevail by a neck.
With his tactical speed, determination, and undefeated record, Thousand Words will be a clear favorite to win the Robert B. Lewis. He’s already proven his superiority over High Velocity, who faded to finish third by 5 ¼ lengths in the Los Alamitos Futurity, and Baffert is showing confidence by tossing Thousand Words into the Lewis field at the last minute. Baffert made a similar move just last week with Mucho Gusto, who wasn’t originally under consideration for the Pegasus World Cup. The result? A dominant victory in a $3 million race. When a horse is ready to run, it pays to be adaptable.
Arguably the only horse standing between Thousand Words and victory is #3 Tizamagician, an improving son of Tiznow conditioned by Richard Mandella. Tizamagician couldn’t seem to catch a break in his first five starts, finishing second four times behind such classy runners as Honor A. P. and Wrecking Crew. But he finally put everything together in a one-mile maiden race on Jan. 1 at Santa Anita, pressing the pace before pulling away to score by 2 ½ lengths.
In terms of Beyer and Brisnet speed figures, Tizamagician hasn’t run quite as fast as Thousand Words, but he isn’t far behind and could threaten if he takes another step forward. Now that Tizamagician has landed a confidence-boosting victory, perhaps he’ll continue improving along the same lines as Mandella’s Omaha Beach, who won three Grade 1 races in 2019 after losing the first four starts of his career.
It helps that Tizamagician has drawn perfectly in post position three, outside of Thousand Words and to the inside of High Velocity. Tizamagician figures to sit an ideal trip just behind the Baffert runners, and if one or both falter, Tizamagician should be the one to capitalize.
For our primary wager, we’ll bet Thousand Words on top of a trifecta while adding Tizamagician, High Velocity, and #1 Encoder underneath. But we’ll also play a backup exacta with Tizamagician on top of Thousand Words, just in case Mandella’s improving colt is ready to deliver a career-best performance.
Wagering Strategy on a $25 Budget
$8 trifecta: 2 with 3 with 1,5 ($16)
What to say at the betting window: Santa Anita, 6th race, $8 trifecta 2 with 3 with 1,5
$9 exacta: 3 with 2
What to say at the betting window: Santa Anita, 6th race, $9 exacta 3 with 2
Good luck, and enjoy the race!