The Robert B. Lewis Stakes honors the memory of one of the sport’s most beloved owners. Fittingly, an important Kentucky Derby prep is named after the two-time winner of the run for the roses and this year’s race features a favorite trained by Bob Baffert, who also trained Silver Charm, Lewis’ first Kentucky Derby winner.
1. Encoder (8-1): Makes his dirt debut here in a tough spot. He’s a son of English Channel, so his pedigree does not scream out that he’ll handle dirt. He’s experienced around two turns, but others are more appealing.
JOCKEY: Mike Smith TRAINER: John Sadler
2. Thousand Words (4-5): We’ll see if he turns out to be the ace in Baffert’s Triple Crown deck, but in this spot, he’s the one to beat. He 2-for-2, but his margin of victory adds up to less than a length. There’s a couple of ways to look at that. He’ll either have a rough time as the competition gets better or he’s a gritty fighter who cannot be underestimated. In his last start, the Los Alamitos Futurity, he recorded a neck victory over Breeders’ Cup Juvenile runner-up Anneau d’Or, which was a nice feat for his second career start. He’s a million dollar yearling and should continue to pay back that hefty price tag in this spot.
JOCKEY: Flavien Prat TRAINER: Bob Baffert
3. Tizamagician (3-1): Needed six tries to break his maiden as he finished second four times for trainer Richard Mandella and that brings back memories of Omaha Beach, who needed five tries to break his maiden and went on to become a multiple Grade 1 winner and the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby. We’re not sure if he’ll reach those heights but given his connections he’s worth a long look in this spot.
JOCKEY: Victor Espinoza TRAINER: Richard Mandella
4. Royal Act (15-1): He’s also getting an audition on dirt to test the Triple Crown waters, which may work out OK for him. As a son of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, he should be able to adapt to the main track. The big question is whether he’s fast enough to keep step with his rivals in this spot.
JOCKEY: Abel Cedillo TRAINER: Peter Eurton
5. High Velocity (3-1): Another talented 3-year-old from Baffert’s barn, he set the pace in the Los Al Futurity but weakened late to finish third, 5 ¼ lengths behind stablemate Thousand Words. His recent works have been sharp and perhaps the jockey switch to Joel Rosario will pay off.
JOCKEY: Joel Rosario TRAINER: Bob Baffert
6. Zimba Warrior (15-1): He’s been in the money in five of six starts, but he was 5 ¾ lengths behind the victorious High Velocity when they met in the seven-furlong Bob Hope. After that he was 9 ¼ lengths behind another Baffert star, finishing third to Authentic in the Sham. Don’t see anything that points to him closing the gap on his rivals today.
JOCKEY: Jose Valdivia Jr. TRAINER: Keith Desormeaux
THE PICK: Thousand Words
LIVE LONGSHOT: Encoder