Remembering Bob Lewis: Optimistic, Loyal, Gracious, and Tough
Date Posted: 2/17/2006 1:17:34 PM
Last Updated: 2/20/2006 8:15:57 AM

Horse owner Bob Lewis, died at age 81.
Photo: Benoit and Associates
Friends, associates, and industry leaders pay tribute to Thoroughbred owner and breeder Bob Lewis, who died at his Newport Beach, Calif., home on Friday at the age of 81.

D. G. Van Clief, commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and president/CEO of the Breeders' Cup: "Our hearts go out to Beverly and the Lewis family. We have lost not only one of racing's foremost leaders and owners, but one of its foremost ambassadors. This is a huge loss for racing, and he will be sorely missed.

"There are a number of tremendously positive qualities that Bob will be remembered for. He was well beyond being a major force in the marketplace and a hugely important owner. Bob was a leader and in many ways, for a lot of us in the industry, he was a mentor. For a gentleman who came to the sport fairly late in life, he was involved in a tremendous number of initiatives beyond the building of his own formidable racing operation: the NTRA, the TOC, the Breeders' Cup. He was involved in all of those, and he was deeply involved.

"I can tell you from personal experience he was always tremendously positive. He was very encouraging to those of us in the trenches. He exuded leadership, and he was a total gentleman at all times. Beyond that, he was also probably one of the most loyal people to his friends and colleagues that I have ever met. Once engaged, he stayed engaged, and he was loyal to his colleagues. Probably the best example of that, over the years, was his association with Wayne Lukas.

"He played an important role as we were founding the NTRA. Despite the debates within the industry and the bumps along the way, Bob always stuck with you when he was involved with you in a project. The thing that characterized Bob, above everything, was his loyalty to his family. The close association that he and Beverly enjoyed was a role model for all of us, and I know he treasured his family and enjoyed the sport with his family. He was a tremendous ambassador for racing."


Trainer D. Wayne Lukas: "The relationship with Bob long ago passed the client-trainer relationship with me. This was a dear friend, and his influence in my life and my career was paramount. He not only was there as a client in this industry, but he was there as a special person in every area. Most people know him from his involvement in Thoroughbred racing, but his outreach to the community and various organizations was huge. I did some charity work for him on some golf tournaments, and I was amazed at the influence he had in so many different things in this area.

"He was really a special person. There are no more like him that I know. About a year ago, he said, 'Boy, you have a beautiful home.' And I said, 'Bob, I have a beautiful home because of you.' He was the 'Yes' man. You'd go to him and say, 'Bob,' and he'd say, 'The answer is yes. What's the question?'

"And he pulled for everybody. We'd be walking through the grandstand and he'd stop and shake hands with someone and say, 'Boy, great win yesterday.' I'd ask him, 'What did he win?' and Bob would say, 'He won the second race yesterday,' which was a $10,000 claiming race.

"Every trainer in America should be so blessed to run into a Bob Lewis. He hired you, he left you alone, and he let you do your thing. There was never any pressure. It was just as easy to call him after he got whipped as it was after a win. He never worried about it. He was special. We had his first big horse in Serena's Song, and I'm just so thrilled we were able to have his last champion in Folklore. That just makes me feel good all over."

Ogden Mills Phipps, chairman of The Jockey Club: "Bob Lewis was a man of endless enthusiasm, and I really appreciated that. He loved projects. He loved his horses, and he loved competing. But the enthusiasm he had is what I remember. It was electric and it was infectious. And his views of racing were not negative. They were positive--very positive."

William S. Farish, Lane's End Farm: "It's a very sad time for the sport. Bob Lewis was a giant in this industry. His personality, his charm, and his generosity made him extremely popular with everybody. I served on many committees with him over the years, and his knowledge and concern for issues was tremendously helpful for racing. His and Beverly's success is a tribute to their knowledge and hard work and love for the sport. He will be sorely missed."

Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland: ""The Thoroughbred industry has lost a stalwart, Keeneland has lost a great supporter, and I've lost a friend. Bob was a great sportsman in victory and in defeat. The industry will miss his leadership in public and in private. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Beverly. The marriage of Bob and Beverly is a role model for all marriages. Susan and I cherish the time we spent with them.

"At the time the NTRA was starting, it was the first time the tracks and the owners of Thoroughbreds had sat at the same table and tried to develop a single strategic plan for the industry. There was a key moment in California where it could have gone either way. There was a meeting over Thanksgiving weekend, and all the racetracks were there. They had a long list of demands, and the demands probably were not going to be met. Just before the meeting started, Bob Lewis said, 'Gentlemen, before we start this meeting, I want you to know that if we don't work together, if the NTRA doesn't get off the ground here, any racetrack that is not cooperating will not see the silks of Bob and Beverly Lewis.' Everyone went, 'aah,' and the entire meeting had a different tone because of the strength he led with. It was no longer about the tracks' demands, it was how we all could work together. If you had taken Bob Lewis out of the equation that day, the NTRA never would have happened.

"When the industry needed leadership, he so often provided it. We will miss the public Bob Lewis as well as much as we will the private Bob Lewis. I really respected the man."

Trainer Bob Baffert: "Racing just lost a true giant. What a sad, sad day. We all knew this was coming, but it's still hard to accept. Bob was like a father figure to me. Not only was he a great owner, he was a better friend. No matter how successful he was, people still rooted for him. That tells you what a classy, gracious person he was. He would call me and congratulate me when I won a race for another owner.

"I'm so fortunate that he came up to me 14 years ago and introduced himself. And it's such a thrill to have had our first Kentucky Derby winner together. I remember, we were like little kids walking over there on Derby Day, even though it was such a cold, miserable day. Silver Charm really brought our two families close together.

"He was a rare owner. He'd always say, 'You're the one that lives with these horses every day, you pick them out and you do whatever you feel is best with them' And he'd never look back. If we lost a big horse, he'd just tell you, 'Let's look ahead and find that next big one.' I never heard him complain or cry about anything.

"When I called Beverly yesterday to tell her about Point of Impact winning, she was so thrilled, because Bob loved that horse. And the horse came through for him; he became his last winner. He was always so excited about the 3-year-olds; they kept him going. He loved buying young horses, and had a lot of guts at the sales. He'd sign these big tickets and he never trembled.

"You learned so much from him, about business and about dealing with people. You can never replace a Bob Lewis. He had a great life and was on a great roll, but, man. I'm going to miss him."

Ed Friendly, founding chairman of the Thoroughbred Owners of California: "When I was on the HBPA board and was trying to get the TOC franchised with the state legislature, Bob was convinced that it was a bad idea and went to Sacramento to testify against TOC. After it was done, a year or two later, to show the breadth of his intellect, he said, 'I was wrong. This is a good idea.' I invited him to join the TOC board, which he did, and he became the chairman who succeeded me. It showed me what a big man he was.

"He was very tough. He and I tangled a couple of times. One time I won and one time he won, and both times we were gracious when it was over. Beverly had a lot of strength behind him. Not a lot of people give her credit, but she has stood strong with him.

"Bob Lewis was a guy who trusted people and wasn't vindictive. He surrounded himself with the best, gave them a free rein and wasn't afraid to dig deep into his pockets. He supported them as nobody else would. Unlike some others, he never got upset when a horse lost. He was a gracious winner, but he was an even more gracious loser."

Tim Smith, former commissioner of the NTRA: "His positive outlook was contagious and it was motivating to be around him. He had that effect on many others in racing, and I'm sure in broader circles outside of the sport. Bob was a pivotal figure in the founding of the NTRA. He was a builder. People always looked forward to spending time with him because of his optimism and positive outlook.

"One anecdote I remember well that describes what he was all about came in the early days of the NTRA. We started an older horse racing series televised on Fox in 1999. Fox gave us a window in the Super Bowl pre-game show that was also in South Florida that year. The opening race was the Donn Handicap. We wanted the star power of Silver Charm, so we called Bob and told him about the importance of this, getting the series off on the right foot with the network and sponsors, and he agreed to do it. I later learned that Bob Baffert argued against it on pure racing grounds: he wasn't sure he'd do well shipping from California and wouldn't take to the surface, and he was right (Silver Charm ran third). Literally, Bob Lewis put the best interests of racing foremost at that pivotal period.

"People who didn't know him viewed him as the world's nicest man. He was that, but he was also very tough. He didn't build that business empire without being tough. On an issue like that, as influential as Bob Baffert can be with owners, once Bob Lewis spoke, that was it. His niceness was balanced by the courage of his convictions."

Thomas H. Meeker, president/CEO of Churchill Downs: "Bob Lewis was a treasured member of the Kentucky Derby family and a friend to everyone in Thoroughbred racing. He was among our industry's most successful owners and breeders, perhaps more importantly he was one of Thoroughbred racing's most ardent supporters and promoters. Bob Lewis is, quite simply, irreplaceable. Our deepest sympathy goes out to Beverly, his lifelong partner and dearest friend, and their children, as well as the countless people, both inside and outside of racing, that were fortunate enough to meet and know Bob Lewis."

Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud, who first met Bob and Beverly Lewis at a Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association seminar for new owners and later boarded their mares: "He meant everything to Holly and me. Other people have certainly given us an opportunity in life, but I'm not sure anybody gave us the opportunity he did. He was generous and he was caring. The way I'll remember him is that I don't think I ever had a conversation with him that that didn't end with, 'How are Holly and the children?' That sums it up. If I'd never done any business with him, my life would be better because I knew Bob Lewis. He was just that kind of person. I feel blessed that I had so much time with him and I'm really sad that it's over."

William Nack, longtime senior writer for Sports Illustrated: "Bob Lewis had more infectious enthusiasm for Thoroughbred horse racing than any owner I've ever known, a kind of wide-eyed, boyish energy that gave him an aura of silver charm and innocence in a world where cynicism unto ennui so often serve as the orders of the day. And never was the man's sense of unbridled glee more palpable than it was in the spring, at any one of the Triple Crown whistle-stops, when he and Beverly had live horse in the hunt.

"In fact, my single most vivid memory of Bob Lewis traces to the late afternoon of May 3, 1997, when he showed up at Bob Baffert's barn at Churchill Downs just 90 minutes before the running of the Kentucky Derby---at a time, of course, when the other owners in the race were partying over boiled shrimp and juleps in one of the upstairs dining rooms. Asked what he was doing in the barn area, Lewis said, 'I wanted to make that walk over to the paddock. I asked Bob if it would be all right and he said, 'Come on along!''

"So there he was, as the witching hour approached, striding next to that muscular gray colt as he marched from the Baffert barn to the gate on the mile chute, then around the outside of that sweeping clubhouse turn and into the homestretch. Racing fans yelled at him and his horse as they strode past. 'Go get 'em, Mister Lewis! Go Silver Charm!' Bob Lewis beamed back at them, in that four-star smile that was his signature, and waved at those who called his or his horse's name. 'Isn't this great?' he said.

"When he reached the mouth of the tunnel, his face alight and flushed with the excitement of the hour, this man who was spending millions in the game, for yearlings at Keeneland and 2-year-olds in training everywhere, suddenly turned and grabbed Baffert's hand and said: 'Bob, thank you so much for letting me go along! I really appreciate it...This was just grand!'

"An hour later, he was making the first of two trips to the Kentucky Derby winner's circle--two years later, he and Beverly would follow D. Wayne Lukas and Charismatic to the charmed enclosure--but that first one with Silver Charm was truly special.

"A couple of weeks before he passed away, I called him at home for a Derby story I was doing. 'You caught me as I was about to leave for the hospital,' he said. 'What can I do for you?' Of course, Bob was his usual ebullient self as he recalled the walk with Silver Charm. 'That walk just pumps you up something unbelievable! It is a great experience! It is inspirational! The Derby is one of the most exciting experiences Beverly and I ever had...It's incredible!'

"Not just the man himself, but all that he represented as an owner--all the energy and enthusiasm that he generated, all that he meant to this game--will be grievously missed."

Nina Hahn, equine insurance agent: "Bob Lewis touched the lives of so many in the Thoroughbred industry. I met Beverly and Bob at the Barretts sale in 1991 when we attended a TOBA function. Throughout his meteoric rise in the industry, I was privileged to be his insurance consultant. Beverly and Bob displayed intense professional loyalty to me over all these years.

"The day of Charismatic's injury, Bob comforted those closest to the horse and told me that his good days in the game far outnumbered the bad days and that the party should go on that night. The party went on as scheduled.

"Bob was an astute businessman and strongly applied his principles to our industry. He treated everyone with respect and kindness, and these traits endeared him to all. The Thoroughbred industry has lost a vertebra in the backbone of racing. He will be greatly missed."

Nancy Kelly vice president/development Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation: "Mr. Lewis was an extremely generous donor to Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and devoted supporter of all our fundraising events. Both he and Mrs. Lewis were deeply committed to the horse, as evidenced by their many contributions to our industry. One of the things I loved about him was that when you were talking to him, he was really interested in what you had to say, listened intently, and made you feel special."


Steve Haskin, senior correspondent for The Blood-Horse: "There is no way to truly appreciate Bob Lewis unless you knew him, in which case you couldn't help but be amazed by his uplifting, gracious personality. I can't tell you how many racing writers back in the mid-to-late '90s, when he he first emerged on the racing scene, would say something to the effect, 'This guy is too good to be true.' But as you got to know him, you realized everything about Bob Lewis was true. When he said something was 'marvelous' or 'delightful,' words he used constantly, he meant it, even down to describing the time he broke a tooth on a 'delightful' piece of chicken he'd eaten at Marylou Whitney's Derby eve party.

"I'll never forget the scene back at the barn after Charismatic fractured his leg in the Belmont Stakes. Bob was trying to keep everyone's spirits up, and when Chris Antley showed up, still shaken after having dismounted and lifted Charismatic's leg off the ground, Bob put his arm around him, and said, 'After watching the film and seeing how you went down and tried to assist the horse and hold him up was just magnificent on your part, and I can't begin to tell you how proud we are to have you in our association.'

"It was at a press conference following the '97 Kentucky Derby that Bob wrote his own epitaph: 'I've asked Beverly, when you plant me six feet under, I want on that tombstone: 'Loving Husband, Adoring Father, and Winner of the 123rd Kentucky Derby.' He concluded by telling the media, 'Thank you all for the kindness you've extended to an old man and his child bride.'"

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