02/02/2008 1:00AM

Crown of Thorns steps up in Lewis


ARCADIA, Calif. - Crown of Thorns was making his first start around two turns, against winners, and in a stakes race on Saturday, but he felled all three obstacles in one swoop by rolling to a stylish 2 1/2-length victory in the Grade 2, $200,000 Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita.

Crown of Thorns ($5.40), the favorite, made a bold move along the rail three furlongs from home, put away a stubborn Coast Guard at mid-stretch, and drew off late like a colt who will appreciate even more ground than the Lewis's 1 1/16 miles. Coast Guard was clearly second, 3 3/4 lengths in front of third-place Reflect Times. Indian Sun and Meal Penalty trailed.

The victory by Crown of Thorns gave trainer Richard Mandella, jockey Victor Espinoza, and owner B. Wayne Hughes another top 3-year-old prospect along with Into Mischief, the CashCall Futurity winner, who is expected to make his 3-year-old debut next Saturday in the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita.

Crown of Thorns, a cleverly named colt by Repent, sat third during the early going as Meal Penalty set a moderate pace of 23.32 seconds for the opening quarter and 47.85 for a half-mile. With Meal Penalty in front of him, and Coast Guard to his outside, Crown of Thorns had to await room along the rail heading into the far turn, but when an opening materialized, he was quick to seize it.

"There was just a little opening and we got lucky and got through," Espinoza said.

"I was worried when he went into the three-eighths pole, hoping he'd get a little luck there," Mandella said.

Crown of Thorns completed 1 1/16 miles on a dry Cushion Track surface in 1:40.76.

Mandella said Crown of Thorns would be pointed to the Grade 3, $200,000 Sham Stakes on March 1, and then the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 5 as preps for the May 3 Kentucky Derby.