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Feb 02, 2012

Baffert holds the aces in Robert B. Lewis

By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor

(Sports Network) - Not only does Bob Baffert have the favorite in this Saturday's Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, but the silver-haired trainer also has what could be the future Kentucky Derby champion entered in the Grade II event.

Liaison comes into the 1 1/16-mile race as the morning-line choice after taking care of business in the CashCall Futurity this past December. The son of Indian Charlie has won his last three starts, including a pair of stakes races at Hollywood Park.

This will be Liaison's second career start on true dirt. His first was a 2 3/4-length maiden win over seven-furlongs at Santa Anita. Following that effort Baffert threw him into the Real Quiet Stakes around two turns and Liaison responded with a half-length score over Rousing Sermon.

The time was a mediocre 1:44 3/5 but the field of six 'walked' through the race going a half in 48 4/5 and the first six-furlongs in 1:13 3/5 seconds. Liaison was never more than two-lengths off the lead until he took command into the stretch while easily holding off Rousing Sermon at the wire.

Liaison was close to the pace in his next start (the CashCall Futurity) as well, but through much quicker fractions of 46 4/5 and 1:11. In addition, instead of having to go three-wide, as was the case in the Real Quiet, he sat on the rail saving all the ground until the field turned into the stretch.

Liaison once again held off the late charge from Rousing Sermon to win by a neck.

The final eighth-of-a-mile was a cavalry charge as 10 horses were within four lengths of each other. In fact, the seventh-placed horse wound up losing by less than three-lengths.

What was most impressive about Liaison's race in the CashCall was how he was able to withstand the rigorous early pace while racing in the fourth spot to win the Grade I event. To that end, the horses that were first, second, third, fifth, and sixth after the first half-mile finished seventh, ninth, 10th, 11th, and eighth, respectively.

Baffert's other runner, Sky Kingdom, is primed for a huge effort in the 1 1/16-mile event despite a pedigree suited for nine and 10-furlongs. After finishing a decent fourth in the CashCall, he won what might have been the most impressive three-year-old allowance race in California this year. In addition, his latest workout - five-furlongs in 58 2/5 - shows he is in top form to turn the tables on his stablemate.

Since Sky Kingdom has only banked $60,000 in graded earnings, a victory in the Robert B. Lewis is critical in gaining enough money to be eligible to race in the Kentucky Derby, especially when he might only make one more start - the Santa Anita Derby - before going on to Churchill Downs.

A longshot to keep in mind in the Robert B. Lewis is I'll Have Another. The son of Flower Alley is a little bit behind the rest of the field since his last race was back in September. Nevertheless, he's bred to run all day and Doug O'Neill has worked him extensively over six and seven-furlongs in recent weeks.


The Grade III Withers Stakes at Aqueduct should be another easy victory for Alpha. The son of Bernardini, who won the Count Fleet earlier in the meet, will be odds-on to take his second straight stakes event over the inner dirt.

Like Sky Kingdom, Alpha needs graded earnings as he holds the same $60,000 under his belt. However, it should be easier for him to garner sufficient earnings as he continues to face lackluster horses in New York.

The Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs has been owned by Todd Pletcher in recent years as his horses have won four of the last six meetings. He is expected to enter Ecabroni off the colt's seven-furlong maiden win on Jan. 14 at Gulfstream Park, a race the son of Smoke Glacken won by two-lengths. More impressive was the gap of almost eight-lengths back to the horse in third.

Other Sam F. Davis contenders are State of Play, Reveron, Neck ?N Neck, and Prospective.

(Spring Hill Farm, Pletcher's other three-year-old winner the day Ecabroni broke his maiden, is scheduled to run the following weekend in the Hutcheson Stakes against Ever So Lucky and Thunder Moccasin.)


Hansen, the two-year-old champion, was the 4-5 favorite in the Holy Bull last Saturday at Gulfstream Park, but the gray son of Tapit was not up to the challenge as Algorithms cruised to an easy five-length score.

After stumbling slightly out of the gate, Hansen built a 4 1/2-length lead after a 45 3/5 first half-mile. Unfortunately, he backed up through the stretch finishing with a 26 4/5 final quarter-mile. The Gulfstream track was sloppy so that might have had something to do with his performance. Still, it is obvious he is not a 10-furlong type of horse.

On the other hand, Algorithms looked the part of a stakes winner, claiming $240,000 of graded earnings. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt should have two more races prior to Kentucky, both of which will be around two turns.

Another one of Pletcher's three-year-olds won Saturday's seventh race, an entry level allowance/optional claimer. El Padrino took care of business by two lengths over Take Charge Indy, with a gap of 13 3/4-lengths back to Argentine Tango in third.

El Padrino came into the allowance event off a third-place finish in the Remsen Stakes last November, a race he did not look all that impressive until the final yards. Moreover, his lone two lifetime wins have come on off tracks so the jury is still out on the son of Pulpit.

Take Charge Indy ran well in defeat despite moving to the lead way too early in the race. It was his first appearance since a fifth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and his first on a wet surface so he could improve in his next outing. On the other hand, all he has done in his career is win a maiden race, so don't look for him to suddenly jump up and win a major Kentucky Derby prep.

The two biggest disappointments on the day were Consortium and Casual Trick. The former ran last in the Holy Bull, while the latter finished next-to-last as the favorite in the race won by El Padrino.

The weekend's top three-year-old performance came from a filly.

Broadway's Alibi, trained by Todd Pletcher, won the Forward Gal Stakes by 16 3/4-lengths while running the seven-furlongs in a brisk 1:21 4/5 seconds. To put that in perspective, Algorithms needed 1:23 to get past Hansen one race later on the card.

The filly is by Vindication out of a Seeking the Gold mare, named Broadway Gold, who is a half-sister to Dialed In. Broadway's Alibi has now won her last three races by a combined 28 3/4-lengths.


1) Sky Kingdom - Needs a good showing on Saturday to remain in the top spot; 2) Union Rags - Must maintain a straight course through the stretch this spring; 3) Algorithms - His first two-turn race will answer more questions; 4) Gemologist - Pletcher will run him just twice before the Kentucky Derby; 5) Discreet Dancer - If the Derby was a mile, he would be alone at the top of this list; 6) Alpha - Could have an unbeaten three-year-old campaign prior to the first Saturday in May; 7) Liaison - Derby distance might be a problem; 8) Out of Bounds - Same might hold true for this son of Discreet Cat; 9) Creative Cause - Will make his three-year-old debut later this month; 10) El Padrino - Pletcher's fourth horse in the top 10 moves up if it rains on Derby day; 11) Hansen - Must rebound in his next start or he is off the list; 12) Sabercat - Hasn't worked since early December.

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