Sham Stakes winner Midnight Hawk takes on 6 in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.

Sham Stakes winner Midnight Hawk takes on 6 in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes.

Benoit Photo

Midnight Hawk One to Beat in Robert B. Lewis

Sham Stakes winner faces six sophomore opponents in 1 1/16-mile race at Santa Anita.

Sham Stakes (gr. III) winner Midnight Hawk takes his next step on the Triple Crown trail for trainer Bob Baffert when he faces six other 3-year-olds in the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 8 at Santa Anita Park.

The 1 1/16-mile Lewis also marks the return to action of Candy Boy, making his first appearance since a second-place finish to juvenile champion Shared Belief in the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) Dec. 14. Shared Belief, who had been pointing to the Lewis for his 3-year-old debut as well, is being held back due to a foot injury. The Lewis is race 8 on the Saturday card with a 4 p.m. PST expected post.

Midnight Hawk, a Kentucky-bred son of two-time Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Midnight Lute  out of the grade I-placed Wolf Power mare Miss Wineshine, is unbeaten in two starts. He debuted in maiden company with a 6 1/4-length victory going 7 1/2 furlongs Dec. 13 on the Betfair Hollywood Park Cushion Track, then returned to capture the one-mile Sham by 1 3/4 lengths Jan. 11 at Santa Anita over three opponents.

The gray/roan colt has worked three times at Santa Anita since the Sham, most recently covering five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 Feb. 2 while in company. Private clocker Gary Young caught the seven-furlong gallop-out in 1:26 2/5.

"All systems are go," Baffert said. "We're all set."

Midnight Hawk is owned by reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Tice (who recently was named offensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons), John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings, Mike Kitchen, and Mike Pegram, who bred him.

Sent off as the 2-5 favorite in the Sham, Midnight Hawk made the early lead and either pressed or set solid fractions before finishing up in 1:36.48. He earned a Beyer figure of 95, identical to Candy Boy’s runner up performance in the CashCall Futurity.

Midnight Hawk was criticized by some for drifting inward through the lane and not opening up on the short field. But Baffert countered, "He was waiting a bit on horses, but (when) he came back, he didn’t look like he was very tired."

The lone graded stakes winner in the field, Midnight Hawk will carry top weight of 120 pounds from the 3 hole with Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith once again aboard.

C R K Stable's homebred Candy Boy looms the biggest threat to the top choice, with Gary Stevens riding from the rail for trainer John Sadler. The Candy Ride  colt has been working steadily since early January after finishing nearly six lengths behind Shared Belief in the 1 1/16-mile CashCall Futurity, his stakes debut at odds of 26-1.

Candy Boy is the most experienced runner in the Lewis field with five starts. He broke his maiden Nov. 22 at Hollywood by 8 1/4 lengths while trying the 1 1/16-mile distance for the first time. In the CashCall, the bay settled near the back of the 12-horse pack early on, made a bold move to get his head in front briefly, but proved no match in the stretch drive for the winner.

In his only prior start at Santa Anita, Candy Boy finished second to Tap it Rich in a one-mile maiden heat Oct. 12.

Diamond Bachelor is a stakes winner on turf for trainer Patrick Biancone and makes his first start since finishing ninth in his dirt debut in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) Nov. 2. He failed to show the speed that day he has demonstrated on grass and raced far back throughout.

A $570,000 2-year-old purchase at Barretts last March, the son of War Front  has turned it up a notch in his morning workouts recently. He worked a bullet six furlongs out of the gate in 1:11 4/5 Jan. 24 and most recently posted a seven-furlong move in 1:26 3/5 Jan. 30. Julien Leparoux has the call from post 2 on Diamond Bachelor, who was heavily favored in each of his first three starts on turf.

Baffert, who has won the Lewis four times previously including last year with Flashback , will also saddle Tanma Corp's Chitu , who is undefeated in two starts going six furlongs. A Kentucky-bred colt by Henny Hughes, Chitu overcame an awkward start to win by a half length as the 3-5 favorite Dec. 27 and figures to be winging early from the far outside with Martin Garcia along.

Chitu zipped a bullet half mile for Baffert Feb. 4 in :46 2/5, best of 34 at the distance.

Trainer David Hofmans, who won the 2001 Lewis with Millennium Wind, sends out Tarabilla Farms' Home Run Kitten, a maiden winner down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course Jan. 11. 

Owner/breeders Jerry and Ann Moss will be represented by Cool Samurai, who shipped west from Belmont Park to break his maiden in his second start while closing much ground going a flat mile Dec. 27. Trained by John Shirreffs, the Kentucky-bred gelding by First Samurai  was among the last-ever workers at Hollywood Park Jan. 31. He went seven furlongs over the Inglewood oval in 1:28 2/5.

Trainer Peter Miller’s El Nino Terrible was a gate-to-wire maiden winner going 1 1/16 miles Jan. 17.

$200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. II, Race 8, 4 p.m.), 3YOs, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Candy Boy (KY), G L Stevens, 118, J W Sadler
2. Diamond Bachelor (KY), J R Leparoux, 118, P L Biancone
3. Midnight Hawk (KY), M E Smith, 120, B Baffert
4. Home Run Kitten (KY), J Talamo, 118, D E Hofmans
5. Cool Samurai (KY), C S Nakatani, 118, J A Shirreffs
6. El Nino Terrible (KY), E A Maldonado, 118, P Miller
7. Chitu (KY), M Garcia, 118, B Baffert