10/26/2017 1:40PM

Hovdey: Lewises had charm, charisma in spades


Beverly and Bob Lewis met when he was a cheerleader at the University of Oregon and she was interviewing for a spot on the squad.

“She didn’t make the squad,” Bob loved to recall. “But I did get her phone number.”

“And I got the yell leader,” Beverly would reply.

So began the romance of 60 years, witnessed in part by a very lucky Thoroughbred racing game. Bob and Beverly Lewis shared a life full of adoration and achievement, combining the best of an old-fashioned, fairy-tale romance with a successful partnership of equals. They made money, raised a family, won races, and left a mark that will last as long as horses are asked to run fast.

There is a reason there are stakes races in Southern California named for both Robert B. Lewis and Beverly Lewis. You would never want to consider one without the other. There is also a reason that in 1997, when the Eclipse Award of Merit was presented, the names on the plaque were “Robert and Beverly Lewis,” making her the first woman so honored by the rabidly patriarchal Thoroughbred industry.

“Dad wouldn’t have had it any other way,” said their son Jeff Lewis, who has managed the scaled-back Lewis racing and breeding interests since the death of his father in 2006. “As far as he was concerned, they were a team. He might have been the one who chose the trainers and decided how much to spend on yearlings, but he would consult with Mom and seek her approval.”

After selling his Budweiser distributorship, Bob Lewis spent a great deal of money on yearlings, much to the theatrical alarm of Beverly, who knew her husband couldn’t help himself.

“I’d sit right next to him at a sale, and he’d keep going up and up,” Beverly once said. “I’d pull on his coat and nothing happened. He’d never stop. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. He once went out for a quart of milk and came back with a new car.”

The 15 years following the victory of Ebonair in the 1991 Cal Cup Juvenile were wall to wall with Lewis stakes winners, usually trained by either Bob Baffert or Wayne Lukas. Their University of Oregon green and gold hooped silks were carried by Horse of the Year Charismatic, Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm, Belmont Stakes winner Commendable, champions Timber Country and Serena’s Song, Breeders’ Cup winners Orientate and Folklore, and such major stakes winners as Hennessy, High Yield, Composure, Twice the Vice, Exploit, Valid Wager, and A.P. Adventure.

Through it all, the Lewises seemed joined at the hip. The only thing Bob Lewis said more often than “delighted” was “Beverly and I.”

The Lewises gave as good as they got. Their charitable work lives on not only in Thoroughbred circles as supporters of horse retirement programs, equine veterinary research, jockey safety, and backstretch scholarships, but also in the wider communities of Southern California where they worked and lived, which is why it is called the Robert and Beverly Lewis Family Cancer Care Center of Pomona Valley Hospital.

It was reasonable to assume that Bob’s death would mark the end of their fabulous roll at the top of the game, although Beverly insisted the flame still burned.

“It’s been a fantastic life with Bob, just marvelous, and it will continue on,” she vowed at the time.

Beverly said this at her home on Lido Isle, in Newport Beach, where she and Bob lived surrounded in simple comfort by portraits of their horses and trophies bearing the names of races like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes, and the Dubai World Cup.

It was here Bob Lewis taught this reporter the proper way to pour a light lager into a pilsner glass, and where a photo shoot for an earlier feature nearly ended in disaster when Bob and I nearly fumbled Silver Charm’s Kentucky Derby trophy off the boat dock and into the drink. Beverly looked on in horror.

After Bob died, the Lewis colors continued to fly, but it was never quite the same without his tireless enthusiasm.

“I can’t think that it was as much fun for mom,” Jeff Lewis said. “And it certainly wasn’t as exciting. She still enjoyed getting out and going to the track. But we weren’t spending the millions of dollars on yearlings any longer.

“Mom was a lot more fiscally conservative than dad,” Jeff went on. “Not that dad was a Vegas kind of gambler. He wasn’t. He looked at buying horses as a great investment. He always said horse racing was the best-kept secret in business, and he was awful good at it. Of course, I like to say that when he passed away he took the pixie dust with him.”

Beverly Lewis died at around 3 o’clock on the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 20, at the age of 90. The following day, Jeff Lewis received a call from trainer Charlie LoPresti in Kentucky, reporting on the fourth race at Keeneland with the good news that 4-year-old Miner’s Cat, a granddaughter of Serena’s Song by Mineshaft, took down the winner’s share of a $69,000 purse in a seven-furlong allowance event.

“She’d already won a couple of times,” Jeff said. “But for that to happen on the day after we lost Mom – well, all I can think was that Dad left a little bit of that pixie dust behind.”