01/16/2014 12:52PM

Meadowlands: Trainer Doug Lewis is making a name for himself this winter

Ken Weingartner/USTA Photo
Driver Corey Callahan will pilot all five of trainer Doug Lewis' horses at the Meadowlands on Saturday.

Trainer Doug Lewis has taken the Meadowlands by storm this winter. The Delaware-based conditioner may be new to East Rutherford for many, but as the son of a trainer who campaigned the Free-For-All trotter Calvert during the Meadowlands’ infancy in the late 70s, Lewis is more than familiar with the territory.

“I was at the Meadowlands when I was eight years old,” Lewis said, “At the time you had to be 18 to get into the grandstand.”

Lewis, now 45, no longer has to sneak into the facility. With five horses of prominence on Saturday’s card, he has established himself as a top trainer at the New Jersey mile oval.

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Saturday’s quintet gives Lewis an excellent chance of coming away with more winners. Combined with his regular driver Corey Callahan, the team has been a fixture on weekends since the meet began.

Opening Saturday’s card will be first-time starter Lama Blue Chip, a three-year-old gelding that recently qualified.

“I think he’s got a lot of ability,” said Lewis of the gelding. “I was high on him last year but he got sore on us and we turned him out.” Lewis believes if they can keep him sound he’ll turn out to be a good horse, but that’s something that only time will tell.

The six-year-old McRusty will be stepping up to the C-1 class after winning from the rail last week and Lewis has mixed feelings about him.

“He’s a good horse but he can get pouty on you and not want to pass horses,” Lewis said. Last week McRusty dominated a cheaper field by getting to the front early for Callahan and maintaining his position. Moving up in class and landing post five, McRusty figures to get a different kind of trip.

With a win and two seconds in his last three starts, Cam B Zipper has maintained his edge for Lewis at the Meadowlands.

“He’s been a very nice consistent horse. You can race him every week for a few months and then give him a few weeks off,” said Lewis, who managed to space the starts out just right last year for the Ontario-bred that earned more than $89,000 in 2013. The task this Saturday got a bit tougher as Cam B Zipper was moved up in class after his second place finish and now is part of a B-2/B-1 handicap (race nine) from post seven.

Lewis closes out his evening in races 10 and 11 with a pair of horses he acquired this fall from Ontario. Gallant Seelster and Berkshire Bear arrived in his stable billed as two markedly different types, but sometimes what looks one way on paper turns out differently on the racetrack.

“We paid $22,000 for Berkshire Bear,” said Lewis.

What about Gallant Seelster?

“We paid a lot more for him,” Lewis countered.

Gallant Seelster earned nearly $130,000 last year racing in Ontario and will try to break the ice for Lewis and company in a C-1 event.

“I was happy after we qualified him at Harrah’s Philadelphia in December,” said Lewis, “He raced well in his first start down there and then when we brought him here he hit his knees real badly in that first start. I made some changes and I thought he would be much better last week, but after the race we scoped him and found that he had bled.”

Lewis has put Gallant Seelster on Lasix as the four-year-old starts from post three on Saturday.

Berkshire Bear will be looking for his third straight victory after scoring by more than eight lengths in the same class a week ago. The four-year-old by Badlands Hanover took a little time to get rigged properly according to Lewis but seems to have found himself at the Meadowlands.

“I sent him over to race at Yonkers and he got locked on the right line badly and half-choked,” Lewis said “I brought him back home and we changed his rigging and he’s been going straight since then.”

Normally Berkshire Bear would be an overwhelming choice returning at the same level from the rail following such a sharp effort, but that may not be the case on Saturday as trainer Tony Alagna returns the near $600,000 winner Wake Up Peter for his four-year-old campaign. Despite such a lofty bankroll, Wake Up Peter has but two pari-mutuel wins in his two years at the racetrack. He landed post eight for the 11th race contest and will likely see some support with horses like Captaintreacherous appearing prominently on his past performance lines.

Doug Lewis has 33 horses under his care currently, with nearly half of them two-year-olds in training. He has about eight three-year-olds close to qualifying. He’s had an impressive opening to his 2014 campaign with his stock finishing first or second in 15 of 31 starts thus far.

The stats alone are a reason to take Lewis and his stable seriously on Saturday nights.