02/06/2014 3:26PM

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.

Mark More than 1 year ago
Game on Dude ..... bwahaha
Mark More than 1 year ago
Sorry . Couldn't help myself.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
I hear ya...I had Blingo to win for $8...
sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
Dont over look the other Baffert trainee, #7 Chitu. I am not scared that hes routing for the first time one bit. That is a nice horse.
sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
This is a Baffert exacta and do not be shocked if the 7 is on top.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stevens won't move CB quite so quickly this time and I think SB is superior to MH, which means CANDY BOY
Scott More than 1 year ago
The only good thing about this race for me is that it's more than 4 horses. I suppose it's also a nice opportunity to see how Midnight Hawk rates, but I'm not too high on him as a Derby candidate and as long as he faces the weak California competition I doubt he'll give me much reason to support. Tough competition makes for true contenders and there just doesn't seem to be any competition out West right now from MH. Note: Shared Belief hasn't shown he can handle the dirt and has already hit the training snag that tends to ruin a horses chances of making noise in the Derby.
Charles Sakach More than 1 year ago
This looks "too pat"... Boxing the exacta Midnight Hawk with Home Run Kitten...
HAY BUSTER More than 1 year ago
Pegram/Baffert/Smith.....a very tough combo to beat in any race.
James Mcrae More than 1 year ago
easy prey for the hawk
Kim Lee More than 1 year ago
Good spot for shy 2 to blossom
zerosumzen More than 1 year ago
Bet on Smith on a speed in a two turn race at your own risk. If he doesn't have a nice start it's over, because he'll ride him like a deep closer just about every single time. Majestic City was just the latest example today. Smith didn't look good, but it may have been a carryover from losing Cougarontheprowl the day before. Gotta love how he cares about the horses, but from a betting perspective I would say he's a liability on a speed going two turns. Unless it's a superstar like Game On Dude.
Rick_Buck More than 1 year ago
Eric Singer More than 1 year ago
If playing the race from a trainer angle, Baffert towers over these. Batting 27% at the meet. And there is no way his two runners will duel. MH sits off Chitu and Baffert could easily run one, two. Take the trainer angle further and use the Miller and Shirreffs runners underneath, along with Candy Boy (who always is around for at least a small bite.) Without King Jerry (Hollendorfer) having an entrant this race is coming up B O B.