Is Bittel Road capable of upsetting the Robert B. Lewis Stakes?

Is Bittel Road capable of upsetting the Robert B. Lewis Stakes?

Mathea Kelley

Saturday 3YO Stakes: What to Look For

We have an interesting assortment of 3-year-old stakes this weekend, even though the Whirlaway and WEBN Stakes came up pretty thin. Will the Derby winner be in the Robert Lewis (gr. III) or Risen Star (gr. III)? We could have a much better idea once certain questions are answered.


First off, it’s important to remember that winning these two races is not a prerequisite for winning on the first Saturday in May. In fact, the last you want is for a horse to run a peak effort (in other words, freak) in early February. So, look for a horse to run a bang-up race without breaking any records or winning by the length of the stretch. This is only Step 1 in what is a long, grueling road; one that has already claimed one major player (Saratoga Sinner) and possibly another (Square Eddie ).


The Robert Lewis will feature the one-two finishers of the CashCall Futurity (gr. I), Nile |">Pioneerof the Nile  and I Want Revenge , along with the rising star with the big knockout punch, Shafted.


But there will be a price horse who is capable of springing the upset if he can answer one question:


Will Bittel Road change leads? In the CashCall Futurity, his first ever start on a surface other than grass, he broke from the 10-post, was hung five-wide on the first turn and four wide on the second turn. Despite jockey Mike Smith trying everything possible to get him to change leads, he never did and still finished a respectable fourth, beaten only 3 1/2 lengths behind the two horses he has to beat in the Lewis. He’s been working well for this race, he’s drawn the rail, and he gets John Velazquez. If he can change leads this time, the two-time stakes winner, who packs a powerful late punch on grass, can surprise a lot of people and at least make his presence felt in the final furlong.


A lot will depend on the pace, and the next question is, are trainers Bobby Frankel and Gary Stute both committed to the lead, as they indicate? Frankel has stated in print that Brother Keith, who blew the first turn in the San Rafael (gr. III) is going to the front. He added, “I tipped my hand when I named Tyler Baze on him.” Baze is excellent on speed horses and he teamed up with Frankel last year to “steal” the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) on the front end every step of the way. Stute, on the other hand, didn’t have to say a word. He indicated his intentions with the fast and gutsy maiden winner Papa Clem by blowing the colt out in :33 4/5 Thursday. So, will both these horses bust out of there and possibly set it up for a closer?


The third question: Is Shafted as good as he looked in his recent allowance score? The son of Mineshaft  is the one 3-year-old this year that has demonstrated the explosive turn of foot you always want to see in a young horse. In that race, he inhaled his opponents in a flash, drawing off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. He wasn’t facing anything remotely close to what he’ll be facing Saturday. But if he is that good, watch out.


Has Pioneerof the Nile improved from 2 to 3 as much as Bob Baffert says he has? Were his phenomenal works (5 furlongs in :58 2/5 and :57 3/5 and 6 furlongs in 1:10 3/5 breezing) an indication we’re about to see something from him we haven’t seen before? If they were, then Baffert will be heading to Kentucky again with a major player.


Finally, how good is I Want Revenge? Visually, he’s an extremely impressive colt, the way he moves and the way he can adapt to any situation, coming from well off the pace, settling in mid-pack, or leading all the way. He has a fluid, efficient stride and seems to be improving with every race, and he should run all day. Trainer Jeff Mullins has decided to put blinkers on him for the Lewis, although the son of Stephen Got Even hasn’t done anything wrong other than get nipped on the wire by Pioneerof the Nile in the CashCall. Mullins obviously feels he could have done better in that race, and he knows the horse better than anyone. The bottom line is, if he continues improving he also will be a major force on the Derby trail.


The Lewis field is rounded out by the hard-knocking, consistent Charlie’s Moment, who never runs a bad race; the former European Oil Man, who ran horribly over the Polytrack in England; and Mark S the Cooler, who could help soothe Paul Reddam and Doug O’Neill’s pain of losing Square Eddie.


As for the Risen Star, where Friesan Fire and Giant Oak will vie for favoritism, the burning question is, can Indygo Mountain bounce back from a series of misfortunes and run back to his brilliant maiden victory at Churchill Downs last fall? The son of A.P. Indy has a world of ability, and don’t be surprised to see him get bet heavily. It seems everyone has latched on to him, expecting him to show his true ability. If he should win this race, he will catapult right to the top or near the top of everyone’s list and take in a ton of money in next week’s first Future Wager.


Giant Oak might need a race, especially having to negotiate a 13-horse field, but this imposing colt is tailor-made for the long Fair Grounds stretch, and he could mow everyone down with those huge strides of his. However, you can be sure his connections will be thrilled with a fast-closing second or even a close third.


Another question is, can Uno Mas shake off that disappointing fourth in the LeComte and return to the form he showed prior to that race when he won two straight, including an authoritative score over Friesan Fire in a one-mile allowance race?


Does Nick Zito’s rare presence at Fair Grounds say anything about Nowhere to Hide, who will be a big price and who could move forward off his maiden score at Calder. This will be the son of Vindication’s sixth career start, and he’ll be ridden by his sixth different jockey.


Finally, we have two other Steve Asmussen-trained colts, in addition to Uno Mas, in Dumar and Soul Warrior, both of whom are coming off victories over the track. But the last question is, can Flying Pegasus and Au Moon overcome the two outside posts, and will they both come busting out of the gate to get position? Flying Pegasus most likely will, and it will be up to Au Moon’s connections to decide whether they want to go with him or try to sit just off him. Larry Jones has two colts – Friesan Fire  and It Happened Again – with similar running styles, and he has to make sure they don’t compromise each other’s chances. Both should be right up near the pace.