06/15/2006 12:00AM

Horsepower a Lewis obsession


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Point Determined will be generating speeds of between 35 and 40 miles per hour on Saturday when he takes on A. P. Warrior and Cause to Believe in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park.

In the meantime, at the other end of the continent, Jeff Lewis will be whipping around the storied turns of Watkins Glen in upstate New York, former home of the U.S. Grand Prix. He will driving both his race-car version of a 1971 Porsche 911 and his 1988 Argo, a 1,300-pound, closed-cockpit beast with a 525-horsepower engine that will take him up to 155 mph on the straightaways.

Let's hope his mind doesn't wander.

"The Argo's a real rocket," Lewis said this week as he drove through the Green Mountains of Vermont, fresh from his Dartmouth College 35th class reunion. "And Watkins Glen is like Churchill Downs, Belmont Park, or Santa Anita in terms of being one of the great North American racetracks."

Normally, Lewis would be on hand alongside his mother, Beverly Lewis, for any race featuring Point Determined. Though not yet a stakes winner, the colt earned everlasting emotional significance by winning a race at Bay Meadows on Feb. 17, just 12 hours after the death of Robert Lewis, the family patriarch.

In practical terms, it will be up to Point Determined to kick-start the Lewis stable fortunes in the Affirmed, after a 2006 season that began with so much hope has become laden with disappointments and sadness.

On the Thoroughbred side of the ledger, the family lost stakes winner Dance Daily to a fatal breakdown at Keeneland in the April 13 Beaumont Stakes. Less than three weeks later, they had to pull the plug on the racing career of champion filly Folklore, who fractured a knee. That was followed on May 6 by Point Determined's ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Dance Daily was an uninsured write-off, while Folklore was retired too far along in the breeding season to get her in foal for anything but an impractically late delivery in 2007. Point Determined, on the other hand, is alive and well, and ready to kick off the second half of a 3-year-old campaign that could recapture some of the old Lewis magic.

Talk about a hard act to follow. In just 15 years, beginning in his mid-60's, Bob Lewis reached heights achieved by only a handful of Thoroughbred owners. The Lewises won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with both Silver Charm and Charismatic, raced champion filly Serena's Song to an all-time earnings mark, and won Breeders' Cup races with Orientate, Folklore, and, in partnership, Timber Country. They also bought, sold, and syndicated racehorses and stallions at the top of the market.

Jeff Lewis worked beside his father at their Foothill Beverage Co., rising to president while his father chaired the board. When it came to the horses, Jeff Lewis and his wife, Marge, were always on hand to share in the major events, unless another kind of racing got in the way.

Competing against fellow amateurs for cups and bragging rights, Lewis has driven such classic American courses as Laguna Seca, Daytona, Sebring, Road America, and Limerock. His European adventures have taken him to Silverstone, Nurburgring, the Spa, and Le Mans, and this summer he will compete in a historic Formula 1 event at Magny-Cours, home of the French Grand Prix, at the wheel of his 1974 Tyrrell-Ford.

"Dad drove Lincoln Continentals and Cadillacs until I talked him into helping me buy a Porsche 912 back in 1968, when I was a sophomore in college," Lewis said. "It was just a few years later he bought his first Porsche 911."

Upon the death of his father, Lewis quickly stepped up to assist in the operation of the family's extensive Thoroughbred holdings, which include more than 30 horses in training, primarily with Bob Baffert, Wayne Lukas, and Wally Dollase.

"I'm very respectful of the fact that these horses are my mother's," Lewis said. "They are not mine. And even though she played a somewhat secondary role to my father in the business side of the horses, I don't want to be overbearing, just because I'm the older male in the family. It's not like that at all."

Ah, but close your eyes and Jeff, who is 56, sounds just like his dad, complete with the resonant baritone, the chamber of commerce cadence, and the bulletproof positive attitude that never seems to wilt. He is quick to allay any fears that the Lewis family would close up shop and fade away, as so often happens in racing after the death of a formidable patriarch.

"I do think we will be targeting a smaller overall operation," Lewis noted. "My mother is more conservative by nature than Dad was. I don't think you can reasonably expect us to be putting out a million-five or two million on yearlings in the future. Maybe we'd rather take that same money and spread it around among three or four, hoping to find that one in the group that will be a successful racehorse.

"I want Mom to be the one who ultimately makes the major decisions," Lewis added. "We're looking forward to staying in the business. Besides, we've got a great crop of 2-year-olds coming up."

Bob couldn't have said it better.