Updated on 09/16/2011 9:51AM

Lewis maintains composure


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Don't get Bob Lewis started. If he blows, there's no telling who might get hurt. He is obviously a man of barely bottled rage, with passionate opinions fueled by roiling emotions that he keeps under a chokehold of absolute control.

I mean, why else would this volcanic racehorse owner and industry activist begin his most heartfelt statements with tacit warnings to duck and cover?

"Please don't take this as a criticism, but . . ."

"I don't mean to offend anyone, but . . ."

"Now don't get me wrong, but . . ."

Okay, so maybe Bob Lewis does not deserve the title of racing's Mr. Furious. He is, in fact, a statesman of sorts, with a keen eye for what works in the business and what is folly, and the ability to keep people thinking in terms of solutions.

Lewis was especially impressed with the message that Sheikh Mohammed delivered at England's recent Gimcrack Stakes Dinner, which echoed the warning Lewis has been delivering about the relationship between racetracks and horse owners.

"The posturing of some racecourses leads me to think that they feel they run the sport and can operate in isolation from owners and others," Sheikh Mohammed stated. "Take it from me, that is not the case."

But when a racetrack operation is driven by the pressure of shareholder profit, as is the case with tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment Corp., Lewis warns that every other racing constituency ends up fending for itself, including trainers, patrons, and owners.

"It's naive to think it is going to happen otherwise," Lewis said.

Like all owners of influence, Lewis derives his clout from his horses, and the money he spends to get them. For the past dozen years, Lewis and his wife, Beverly, have been playing at the top of the game, buying, selling, syndicating, and collecting precious hardware. Their names have become synonymous with such runners as Silver Charm, Serena's Song, Timber Country, Charismatic, and now Orientate, the likely sprint champion of 2002.

On Saturday at Hollywood Park, the Lewises will watch their latest star, Composure, lead the field for the $200,000 Hollywood Starlet Stakes, a race won by Serena's Song in 1994. Lewis is not quite ready to compare the two, but there are parallels, including their victories in the Oak Leaf Stakes and their dramatic second-place finishes in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

"We've very proud of what Composure has been able to accomplish so far," Lewis said Thursday morning from his dockside home on Newport's Lido Island. "And she'll go the distance."

And how. As a daughter of Belmont winner Touch Gold and the long-winded mare Party Cited, Composure has the blood to run fast and far. In fact, Lewis was still licking his chops over the $2 million bonus attached to New York's revamped "Triple Tiara" for 3-year-old fillies, which includes races of nine, 10, and 12 furlongs.

"I'm not suggesting that we're going to be there," Lewis said. "But it's fun to think about it. And I think it is an indication that the industry is recognizing this kind of purse money should be available to the fillies, and not just the colts."

The Lewises paid $470,000 for Composure as a yearling. Bob Baffert, along with J.D. and Kevin McKathan, picked her out at Keeneland last fall, and Bob Lewis did the bidding. After that, Lewis put her in the back of his mind with the rest of his newly acquired inventory, until she made her debut at Del Mar in July. She finished last, but Lewis was far from discouraged.

"Whatever we paid for the horse, I don't really concern myself," he said. "If we buy a half a dozen yearlings at a sale, I average out the amount we paid and hope they come home and pay for themselves. And I know some of them take more time than others to realize their potential."

While Lewis can exhibit reasonable patience when it comes to the development of his horses, he has no time for business decisions made with haste, or based solely upon public relations. He was at his most irate in the wake of the Breeders' Cup pick six scandal, when some jurisdictions banned pick six betting and some racetracks adopted a zero-minutes-to-post policy on closing the windows. In the opinion of Lewis, the public and horsemen were being penalized for a problem relating to management.

"I just don't think we ought to carry our industry problems to the wagering public," Lewis said. "It's inappropriate. The only real value comes in finding the solution, which means getting the new software that is going to address the problem, along with a much greater oversight on the part of everybody in the industry."

And even though it is racetrack management that will take the lead on tote reform, Lewis hopes that owners will be kept advised of every development. As a director and former chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, he expects nothing less.

"Mind you, I don't guarantee we will be," Lewis said. "We've been left out of the loop on more than one occasion. Of course, I don't mean that critically in any way."

Of course not.