02/06/2014 2:26PM

Santa Anita: Robert B. Lewis a stiffer test for Midnight Hawk

Shigeki Kikkawa
Midnight Hawk, owned in part by two of the Chicago Blackhawks coaches, tries to remain unbeaten in three starts Saturday in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis Stakes.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The Chicago Blackhawks were to play their final game before the break for the Olympic Games on Friday night in Arizona. Ten members of the team are heading to Russia to represent their home countries, looking for medals. Their head coach, though, has a much shorter commute on Saturday, a quick hop to California, and probably wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Joel Quenneville, the two-time Stanley Cup-winning coach of the Hawks, is co-owner of the unbeaten Midnight Hawk, who will go for a hat trick on Saturday in the Grade 2, $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. Quenneville loves racing – he’ll mix in visits to tracks around practices, and makes a summer sojourn to Saratoga – and now he’s getting a taste of Derby fever, too, along with his top assistant, Mike Kitchen, who’s also part of the partnership.

[Robert B. Lewis Stakes: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

Midnight Hawk has quickly risen among the nation’s 3-year-olds. He won his debut sprinting at Hollywood Park on Dec. 13, then stretched out around two turns and won last month’s Sham Stakes at one mile here. The San Felipe, at 1 1/16 miles, has a deeper field than the Sham, but once again the two main contenders are trained by Bob Baffert and John Sadler. Baffert has Midnight Hawk, and Sadler, who sent out Kristo in the Sham, counters with Candy Boy.

The Sham had just four runners, and unfolded like a match race, with Midnight Hawk getting the best of Kristo. The Lewis, with seven entrants, has far more speed on paper – with Diamond Bachelor and Chitu the quickest – so Midnight Hawk will get a chance to show he can stalk and finish going two turns.

“I’ve been trying to slow him down in his works, get him to not be so aggressive,” Baffert said Thursday morning at Santa Anita. “We’ll know in the race, I guess.”

Midnight Hawk wore blinkers for his debut win, but Baffert removed them for the Sham, and they will remain off.

Candy Boy, the most-experienced horse in the race with five starts, comes off a good second-place finish behind Eclipse Award winner Shared Belief in the CashCall Futurity.

“It’s just a question of whether he gets a good trip and he’s good enough,” Sadler said. “He’s had a seamless month. It’s been a stress-free lead-in. There’s been no weather. How often does it happen that there’s no weather here in January?”

Chitu, also trained by Baffert, won going six furlongs in both his races. Baffert had originally planned on sending him to Oaklawn for the Southwest Stakes on Feb. 17. He called an audible owing to the extremely cold weather in Arkansas.

“It’s been so cold there, and I want to make sure I get a two-turn race into him,” Baffert said. “I’m not sure how far he’ll go, but I’ve got to give him the opportunity.”

Diamond Bachelor broke poorly and never was a factor in his lone dirt try, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This race will determine whether he remains on dirt or goes back to turf, a surface over which he is 2 for 3.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

“We come to this race very humble,” said Patrick Biancone, who trains Diamond Bachelor.

Home Run Kitten is also experimenting. A smallish son of Kitten’s Joy, Home Run Kitten has raced twice, both times in turf sprints. But it’s early in the year for a 3-year-old, so there’s no better time to see if he’ll handle dirt.

“That’s the major reason for being in the race,” said David Hofmans, who trains Home Run Kitten.

Cool Samurai rallied to beat maidens here on Dec. 27 in his second lifetime start. El Nino Terrible also comes off a maiden win, on Jan. 17, in his third start.

The Lewis is worth 10 points to the winner (with 4 for second, 2 for third, and 1 for fourth) under the system utilized by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the May 3 Kentucky Derby should there be more than the maximum 20 entrants.