03/01/2006 12:00AM

Lewis colors bright as ever


ARCADIA, Calif. - Through the years, Santa Anita Park managements have been appropriately stingy in the naming of races for people of note. In fact, there are only three such events: the Strub Stakes after the track's founding family, the Frank E. Kilroe Mile after the legendary director of racing, and the Baldwin Stakes after the California pioneer who first brought racing to the foothills of Sierra Madre.

Now you can add to that list the name of the guy who used to deliver the beer.

The Robert B. Lewis Memorial will replace the Santa Catalina Stakes on the calendar beginning in 2007, honoring the man whose first brush with Santa Anita came as a young fan at his father's side in the late 1930's.

In 1949, with his first child on the way, Lewis could be found working as a clerk for Harry Curland Catering, deep in the bowels of Santa Anita. A few years later, it was the same Bob Lewis servicing Santa Anita as one of his biggest clients, delivering the kegs and crates of Budweiser to the racetrack loading dock when his Foothill Beverage Co. was still pretty much a one-man show.

Eventually, the beer distribution business allowed Lewis to indulge in Thoroughbreds at the highest levels, which included victories in many of Santa Anita's most important events. He returned the favor by contributing his time and energies to any number of racetrack causes and organizations.

It will come, therefore, as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention that Beverly Lewis will be front and center at Santa Anita on Saturday to watch the yellow and green Lewis colors carried by With Distinction in the Santa Anita Handicap and Senor Swinger in the Kilroe Mile, even though it has been barely two weeks since the death of Bob Lewis, Beverly's husband of more than 58 1/2 years.

Surrounding herself with a festive racetrack crowd on the biggest day of the meet sounds like the perfect tonic, sure to bring back nothing but good memories. It will also give Beverly a chance to give public thanks for Santa Anita's tribute to her husband.

"I was overwhelmed," Lewis said of the event to be named in Bob's honor. "I thought it was just magnificent."

It was a clear and cool Wednesday morning in the Lido Isle neighborhood of Newport Beach, and Beverly Lewis was at home, still sorting through the aftermath of her husband's passing. Robert Bunson Lewis was 81.

"It's been a fantastic life with Bob, just marvelous, and it will continue on," she vowed. The Lewises' older son, Jeff Lewis, "is very enthusiastic about racing" she said. "He's getting right into it, helping me settle some matters, jumping in with both feet."

Does that mean the Lewis stable will continue to play at the highest levels?

"Certainly!" Beverly replied, not missing a beat. "Definitely. Although there could be some changes. Jeff's a little tighter with his money than his dad."

The news of the $16 million 2-year-old sold Tuesday in Florida was very much on Beverly's mind as she recalled some fairly impressive spending by her husband, including a sale-topping $1.9 million for the colt What a Song at the Barretts 2-year-old auction of 2005.

"I'd sit right next to him at a sale, and he'd keep going up and up," Beverly recalled. "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."

This was pretty much the picture of the Bob Lewis celebrated last week in a memorial service held at the Lewis family church in Newport Beach. Asked later to name some of the notables in attendance from the racing community, this reporter could only reply, "Everyone."

"How do you replace a man like that?" wondered Billy Koch, the head of an ownership syndicate and a director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, as he gazed around the standing-room-only crowd.

The answer - and Koch agreed - is that you don't replace a man like Bob Lewis. An industry fortunate to enjoy his influence should simply count its lucky stars and take strength from the experience. It's a waste of time waiting for another one like him to come along.

But don't think for a moment the Lewis flag will falter if Beverly has her way. As a native of Mira Loma, near San Francisco, Beverly Lewis bears all the pride of a homegrown Californian, and every right to follow in the footsteps of the many noteworthy West Coast women who maintained quality racing operations after the death of their well-known husbands. Her role models make for an impressive group, including Betty Mabee, Bay Schiffer, Connie Ring, Barbara Walter, Constance Bishop, Patsy Pope, Georgia Ridder, and Madeleine Paulson.

In the meantime, the Lewis fortunes will be high-profile over the coming weeks, with the promising 3-year-olds Point of Impact and Point Determined earmarked for important stakes tests, and the Barretts sale of 2-year-olds right around the corner. As for Saturday's Santa Catalina, there will be no Lewis colt in the field. But Like Bob Lewis would say, just wait until next year.