01/27/2006 1:00AM

Lewis manages to stay upbeat


ARCADIA, Calif. - It takes a figure of considerable stature to be conspicuous by his absence, which is why the name of Bob Lewis was rattling around the room last Monday night at the Eclipse Awards Dinner when people started to notice that Beverly Lewis didn't bring a date.

Racetrackers, even those in formal wear, find it impossible to resist spreading baseless rumors, and so by the end of the evening, depending on who you talked to last, Bob Lewis was either abducted by aliens, deep in the witness protection program, or suffering from any number of maladies involving a Gray's Anatomy of internal organs.

For the record, it was his kidneys. Details later.

Everyone knows Lewis is not the kind of guy to pull a petulant Marlon Brando, sending someone in his place to pick up a trophy - in this case the statue for Folklore's championship season. Bob and Beverly Lewis have been reliably front and center in the past to represent their honored horses, including Serena's Song, Charismatic, Silver Charm, and Orientate, and as partners in the ownership of Timber Country. In 1997, the Lewises were presented the Eclipse Award of Merit.

One of Beverly's favorite Bob stories goes back to the 2000 Eclipse dinner, saluting the horses of 1999, when Charismatic was not only announced as 3-year-old champion, but as Horse of the Year as well.

"At the end of the evening they came for the golden Horse of the Year trophy, in order to have the nameplate engraved with Charismatic's name," Beverly recalled. "Bob wouldn't let them have it. He said he wasn't about to let that trophy go."

Can't really blame him. The engraved nameplate was sent to them later under separate cover.

Reached at his Newport Beach home a few days after this year's ceremony, Bob Lewis expressed regret over missing the dinner and the chance to see Folklore's name in lights. He was asked how he felt. The answer: "Terrible."

Then he laughed at how dramatic it sounded.

"I'm not ill in the sense of having the flu or anything of that nature," Lewis explained. "It goes back to my first heart bypass surgery, which was in 1979."

He had a second bypass in 1995.

"In the process of that experience I damaged my kidneys. So I'm going through a process of dialysis now, and it is miserable," Lewis said.

To add injury to injury, the 81-year-old Lewis also required minor surgery to repair a hernia last week. The good news is that the peritoneal dialysis procedure Lewis is currently undergoing can be performed at home. The bad news is that he doesn't really have time for such inconveniences right now, what with three promising colts trying to make the Triple Crown trail and a pair of classy 3-year-old fillies right on their heels.

"At least the dialysis unit is portable," Lewis said. "About the size of a small suitcase. But I'll tell you, I've never felt so weak. It really takes a lot out of you."

The idea of a listless Bob Lewis is a crashing contradiction of terms, sort of like compassionate conservative, or Middle East peace. Good friends compare him to the Energizer bunny, while skeptics wonder how someone can possibly be so upbeat so much of the time.

In fact, Lewis is a hard-nosed businessman who spends a great deal of time and effort gnawing on the problems of the racing industry. He has weighed in as a part of such Thoroughbred counsels as the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Breeders' Cup, the Thoroughbred Owners of Calif-ornia, and currently as a director of the Oak Tree Racing Association.

On the sporting side, the Lewis stable is so deep this year that he could suffer a third-place finish with Folklore in the recent Santa Ynez Stakes and still win the race with her entrymate, Dance Daily, a $600,000 daughter of Five Star Day.

Among colts, the stable is resting its classic hopes on two sons of 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given - Point Determined and Point of Impact - and a son of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, named Royal Legacy. The three cost a total of $2.1 million at auction. To date, they have but one win among them.

Point Determined and Royal Legacy finished one-two in a Jan. 13 maiden race at Santa Anita, while Point of Impact has had two highly entertaining starts, both losses. Lewis chuckled when he was reminded of the colt's two-turn debut last Wednesday, in which he bolted going into Santa Anita's clubhouse bend.

"He's an enormous horse, and when he gets cranked up I think we'll hear a lot from him," Lewis said. "He just needs to learn how to make that turn."

Such boundless optimism had been a hallmark of the Lewis experience in horse racing, dating back to their emergence in the early 1990's. Still, Lewis is coldly realistic about his condition, and he is in no hurry to push himself back into the racing scene.

"I don't dare to do that," Lewis said. "I don't want to get my hopes up and then have it all wiped out from under me. But I'll recover. Besides, the alternative I don't like at all."