03/31/2005 1:00AM

Mr. Class back in classics


ARCADIA, Calif. - It has been five years since Bob and Beverly Lewis made any sort of impact on the Triple Crown, and that was back in June of 2000 when no one was really paying much attention to a Belmont Stakes diluted by the absence of both Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus and Preakness winner Red Bullet. A nickel for anyone not called Lewis, Lukas, or Douglas who can remember the name of the winner.

By then, the game had grown accustomed to the glad-handing Bob and the steadfast Beverly residing at the absolute center of the racing universe. As the owners of Silver Charm and Charismatic, they had survived the white-hot spotlight of Triple Crown scrutiny in 1997 and again in 1999, when their colts won the Derby and the Preakness, only to lose the Belmont.

The 1997 Belmont was viewed by a record crowd of 70,682, while grabbing a 5.6 Nielsen rating and 16 share of television audience. The Lewises chartered a custom-fitted 727, flew a hundred of their closest friends from California to New York, put them up at a swank hotel and took them to a Broadway play. At some point, Bob Lewis came down with bronchitis, so he doesn't remember much about the big day, which is just as well. Touch Gold ambushed Silver Charm on the far outside to win by three-quarters of a length.

The 1999 Belmont drew 85,818 fans to Belmont Park - a new record - as well as another huge TV audience, this one a 6.0 rating and a 17 share. This time, though, it turned out to be a race the Lewises would prefer to forget. While making his expected move, Charismatic fractured the ankle of his left foreleg yet still finished the race, losing by less than two lengths. The aplomb with which the Lewises handled the '97 Belmont was replaced by shock and sadness in '99, although Charis-matic was able to be saved.

If such trauma discouraged the Lewises, they have hidden it well. In 2004 their horses won 50 races and $3 million, their best year since 1999. This year they are off to another good start, with earnings around the $800,000 mark through the first quarter. Bob Lewis, who turns 81 in May, says he is ready to dive into the spring classics once again with a pair of colts trained by Wayne Lukas.

Their best hope rests with Consolidator, the runaway winner of the San Felipe Handicap at Santa Anita on March 19.

"We were pretty pleased with that race," Lewis said. "I just hope he didn't run his best one that day. In fact, we're optimistically hoping to have two horses in the Kentucky Derby this year."

Their other candidate is Going Wild, winner of the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in February and then runner-up to champion Declan's Moon in the subsequent Santa Catalina.

Going Wild is being aimed for the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 9. Consolidator runs in the Blue Grass one week later, on April 16. In between, the Lewises will return home to California to be honored at the annual fund-raising dinner for the Edwin J. Gregson Foundation, benefitting a scholarship program for the children of backstretch employees, set for the evening of April 11 at the Twin Palms restaurant in Pasadena.

"It's a wonderful cause, and Beverly and I are very grateful," Lewis said. "It will be a very busy week."

Lewis doesn't seem to be slowing down when it comes to racing. In fact, Bob and Beverly Lewis were the leading buyers at the recent Barretts sale of 2-year-olds, spending $3.8 million on five young prospects, including $1.9 million for the sale-topper, by Songanda-prayer.

"I had the pleasure of going out to the track the other day and looking at some of those acquisitions," Lewis said. "If that doesn't lift you, nothing will. There is a Point Given colt with Bob Baffert that we are just so excited about."

With good reason. The Lewises paid $750,000 for the colt, from the first crop of the 2001 Horse of the Year.

"He looks very much like his sire," Lewis said. "And I'll tell you, he is enormous. I could be corrected, but he must be standing 17 hands already. Bob saw him work, and he said he just floated over the ground like a cloud."

In the meantime, the Lewises will be in action this weekend with two fillies from the Baffert string. On Saturday at Santa Anita, they will be present for the return of their unbeaten Inspiring, who has not run since winning the Sorrento Stakes last summer at Del Mar. On the same afternoon, at Sunland Park, the Lewises will be represented by Resplendency in the $100,000 Harry Henson Handicap, on the WinStar Derby undercard. Resplendency has been mixing it up with some of the best older fillies and mares in Southern California, winning the Monrovia Handicap and finishing third in the Santa Maria.

"Bob said she might be 1-9 in there," Lewis said. "But we'll see what happens. In this business, when you start to really get your hopes up, that's about the time you fall out of bed."