02/04/2009 12:00AM

Lewis shapes up as key test for Shafted


ARCADIA, Calif. - Wherever he goes, Shafted wastes no time making a favorable first impression.

He won his debut at Woodbine in October, and his first start in California in an allowance race at Santa Anita last month. If that improvement continues in his graded stakes debut in Saturday's $200,000 Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, Shafted could be part of the Kentucky Derby picture.

The Grade 2 Lewis Stakes is run over 1 1/16 miles, and is led by Pioneerof the Nile, the winner of the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park last December for Ahmed Zayat and trainer Bob Baffert. Fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile here in October, Pioneerof the Nile will be favored in the Lewis Stakes, which has drawn a field of nine.

The field includes the turf stakes winner Bittel Road, the minor stakes winner Charlie's Moment, and CashCall Futurity runner-up I Want Revenge.

Shafted is capable of an upset if he continues to progress for trainer Mark Casse.

"Our horse has only run three times, so he looks like a horse on the improve," Casse said on Wednesday.

Shafted has the benefit of a win over this track in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on Jan. 2. Ridden by Joel Rosario, who has the mount on Saturday, Shafted rallied from fifth in a field of six to win by 2 1/2 lengths.

Casse said the performance deserves respect because Shafted had to come from several lengths off a slow pace.

"It looks like a legitimate race," he said.

Owned by Woodford Racing, Shafted made one stakes appearance at Woodbine, finishing a troubled sixth in the Display Stakes in December. Casse dismissed the result after Shafted was blocked in early stretch.

"He got shut off by another of my horses," he said.

Even though Shafted has won at 1 1/16 miles at this meeting, Casse thinks the Lewis distance is not an ideal fit for Shafted, who is by Mineshaft.

"I wished the race was a touch farther," he said. "I think he'll do better the farther he goes. The Mineshafts tend to get better the farther they go."