02/28/2007 12:00AM

New phase for Lewis legacy

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Of all the races that could have been chosen to be replaced by the Robert B. Lewis Stakes, none is more perfect than the Santa Catalina. Call it a happy accident.

"I thought they did it on purpose," said Beverly Lewis, wife of the late owner, breeder, and industry leader. "We boated over to Santa Catalina for years and years, had a mooring over there, and just loved it. Even before we had a boat, we'd go over with the Lion's Club convention and dance at the casino to Les Brown. Of all the islands we visited, Bob always said there's only one he'd like to get back to - and that was Catalina."

Bob Lewis died on Feb. 17, 2006, at the age of 81, leaving behind a legacy of good horses and unflagging service to the game. Beer made his fortune, but it was Thoroughbred racing that made Lewis a familiar face, thanks to horses like Silver Charm, Charismatic, Serena's Song, Twice the Vice, and Hennessy.

Any number of tracks would have been justified in tagging a race with the Lewis name, but Santa Anita made the most sense. Not only was Lewis a member of the board of the Oak Tree Racing Association - a Santa Anita tenant - his business history also was entwined with the track, a longtime client of his Foothill Beverage Co. Major Santa Anita races have been named for the founding family (Strub Stakes) and the visionary racing director (Frank E. Kilroe Mile). Now another one honors the guy who used to deliver the Budweiser.

The Lewises came close to winning past versions of the Santa Catalina, with colts like Going Wild, High Yield, and Scrimshaw hitting the board. However, the family will not be represented in the first running of the Robert B. Lewis on Saturday, even though they had five colts eligible. All of them are from the last batch of yearlings bought by Bob Lewis in 2005, and all of them bear his trademarks of heavyweight pedigrees and pricetags to match.

New Heights is a $600,000 son of Unbridled's Song out of the stakes mare Hookedonthefeelin. Solicitous is a $900,000 son of Dynaformer out of a Deputy Minister mare. Fortified is a $350,000 son of Seeking the Gold out of a Storm Cat mare, while Silver Poet is a $600,000 son of Silver Deputy, also out of a mare by Storm Cat.

Tenfold, the most accomplished of the bunch, is a $725,000 son of Tiznow who finished second to Notional in the San Rafael Stakes on Jan. 13, then came back to run second in an allowance race for trainer Bob Baffert.

"We thought Tenfold might be running in the Lewis," said Jeff Lewis, the Lewises' oldest son and now Beverly's close adviser on their Thoroughbred holdings. "But Bob has decided to take it a little slower with him for now. There is an allowance race on Sunday he's aiming for instead."

Taking it slow was never the Bob Lewis style. He loved to play at the top of the game whenever a horse could take him there, and he spent the kind of money required to make it happen. You don't win two Kentucky Derbies and race six champions breeding in the back yard on the cheap.

Jeff Lewis, on the other hand, is approaching the business with a different philosophy, and his mother tends to agree.

"When you get down to it, I'm not the sportsman that my father was," Lewis said. "Not that he took it cavalierly at all. The numbers over the years were pretty darn good, for him taking as much risk as he did. I am just more conservative by nature."

Still, there must be some form of risk-taking gene swimming in the Lewis DNA. Jeff Lewis may not be the kind of guy to keep raising his hand at a Keeneland yearling sale in the face of competition from Coolmore and the Maktoums. But he is a deadly serious amateur race-car driver, and he regrets that he will have to miss the first running on the Robert B. Lewis in order to keep a date with his 1999 Porsche GT3R at Florida's fabled Sebring International Raceway on Saturday. Lewis describes the vehicle as "a 996 on steroids," which sounds fast.

While in Florida, Lewis also looked in on the family's three 2-year-olds that mark the beginning of the Beverly and Jeff era, purchased at sales last year and now training in Ocala. He is particularly taken with a daughter of the high-octane Fusaichi Pegasus.

"She's out of Lady From Dixie, a very successful stakes mare," Lewis said. "She's already 16-1 [hands], big and fast, and she's got a FuPeg attitude. She wants to race."

Such a filly fits with the way Jeff Lewis would like to play the game, once he and his mother have emerged from the stable's transitional stage.

"I kind of like the breeding side of the business," Jeff Lewis said. "When we get up on two legs with that, maybe we'll be able to bring some homebreds to the racetrack.

"For me to ever try to duplicate what my dad accomplished would be foolish," Lewis added. "But if somehow, in some other way I can make a small mark in the industry over the years ahead, that would something I'd be very proud of. Let's wait and see."