02/17/2006 1:00AM

Bob Lewis, winner of two Derbies, dies at 81

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Bob Lewis won the Kentucky Derby twice with Silver Charm in 1997 and Charismatic in 1999.

Bob Lewis, whose success in racing ran head-and-head with his popularity, died on Friday morning at his home in Newport Beach, Calif., after suffering from heart and kidney problems in recent months. He was 81.

Lewis, who raced a powerful stable with his wife, Beverly, only entered the sport in 1990 but in 16 years had a stunning impact, notably with the Kentucky Derby victories, and Triple Crown near misses, of Silver Charm and Charismatic. He also won three Preakness Stakes, one Belmont Stakes, three Breeders' Cup races, the Dubai World Cup, and had six of his horses earn Eclipse Awards, including Charismatic, the 1999 Horse of the Year.

All his success was mixed with a charming personality and generosity that made Lewis a beloved figure at the racetrack. He was partial to helping troubled jockeys, like Chris Antley and Patrick Valenzuela, both on and off the track. He had an amazing retention for names and was always upbeat, the embodiment of the Norman Vincent Peale ideal of "The Power of Positive Thinking."

"What other guy do you know who won all those races and people still root for him?" said Bob Baffert, who trained horses for Lewis for a decade and whose biggest victories with him came with Silver Charm. "You won't find one person who can say anything bad about Bob and Beverly Lewis.

"This is a very sad day," Baffert added.

"He was the nicest person you could ever meet," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who first met Lewis when he was an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas and still trained for him once he went on his own. "This is the kind of person he was: I had one filly for him who we bought for $400,000. She didn't turn out to be anything special. I ran her one day in a maiden race at Delaware and she finished second. I called him up, and he said, 'Todd, that's fantastic. Super.'

I mean, here's a guy who won two Kentucky Derbies and the Dubai World Cup, and he was genuinely excited and appreciative of a race like that."

Both Silver Charm, in 1997, and Charismatic, in 1999, won the Derby and Preakness before losing their Triple Crown bids in the Belmont. Lewis also won the Preakness in 1995 with Timber Country, whom he owned in partnership with Graham Beck's Gainesway Farm and W.T. Young's Overbrook Farm. He won the Belmont with Commendable in 2000.

Silver Charm was Lewis's best colt. In addition to the victories in the Derby and Preakness, he won the Dubai World Cup in 1998 and was second in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Silver Charm was the Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old colt of 1997. He won 12 times in 24 starts and earned more than $6.9 million.

Lewis's best filly was Serena's Song, who won 18 races - 11 of which were Grade 1 - and more than $3.2 million during three years on the racetrack. She was the Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old filly of 1995, and in 2002 was elected to racing's Hall of Fame.

Lewis won Breeders' Cup races with Timber Country in the 1994 Juvenile, Orientate in the 2002 Sprint, and Folklore in last year's Juvenile Fillies.

Charismatic in 1999 was Horse of the Year, as well as champion 3-year-old. Lewis's other Eclipse Award winners were Timber Country (2-year-old male of 1994), Serena's Song, Silver Charm, Orientate (2002 sprinter), and, most recently, Folklore (2-year-old filly of 2005).

Lewis also was a familiar face at the sales, where he often was represented in purchases by Lexington, Ky.-based agent John Moynihan. The Lewises generally were more active at yearling sales, where they routinely were among the nation's top 10 buyers. But in recent years they increasingly frequented juvenile sales. Last year, they spent $1.9 million on What a Song, who won all three of his starts before suffering a fatal injury during a routine gallop at Del Mar.

The Lewises also were well known as sellers and enjoyed much auction-ring success with foals out of Serena's Song. They sold four of her yearlings for a total of $10.7 million. The most expensive of those was a still-unnamed Storm Cat colt, who brought $3.5 million from Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum at the 2005 Keeneland September sale.

Robert Lewis was born on May 12, 1924, in Minneapolis, Minn. He met his wife in 1946 when both were undergraduates at the University of Oregon, and their runners carried the green and yellow colors of their alma mater. They were married in 1947.

Lewis made his fortune as the chairman of Foothill Beverage Co., which was the largest distributor in Southern California of products made by Anheuser-Busch.

In racing, Lewis was a member of The Jockey Club's board of directors. He and his wife won the Eclipse Award of Merit in 1997. The Lewises were also honored by the New York Turf Writers in 1997, and with the Big Sport of Turfdom Award by the Turf Publicists of America in 1995.

Lewis was active with charitable organizations, including the Casa Colina Rehabilitation Center in Pomona, Calif., where Jeff Lukas was treated after being trampled in December 1993 by Tabasco Cat. The Lewises also established the Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center in Pomona.

Lewis is survived by his wife of 58 years, three children - Jeff, Jim, and Nancy - and four grandchildren. His oldest son, Jeff, said on Friday that a funeral service would be held on Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. James Anglican Church, 3209 Via Lido, in Newport Beach, Calif. Jeff Lewis said that in lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Foundation, 1798 N. Garey Ave., Pomona, Calif., 91767.

- additional reporting by Glenye Cain and Brad Free

The Lewis horses

Champions

* Folklore, 2005
2-year-old filly

* Orientate, 2002
sprinter

* Charismatic, 1999
Horse of the Year, 3-year-old male

* Silver Charm, 1997
3-year-old male

* Serena's Song, 1995
3-year-old filly

* Timber Country, 1994
2-year-old male

Classic winners

* Commendable, 2000
Belmont

* Charismatic, 1999
Kentucky Derby, Preakness

* Silver Charm, 1997
Kentucky Derby, Preakness

* Timber Country, 1995
Preakness

Breeders' Cup winners

* Folklore, 2005
Juvenile Fillies

* Orientate, 2002
Sprint

* Timber Country, 1994
Juvenile