Bob and Beverly Lewis.

Bob and Beverly Lewis.

Barbara D. Livingston

Prominent Owner Bob Lewis Dead; Services Set for Thursday

Bob Lewis, whose upbeat personality in winner's circles nationwide showed Thoroughbred racing in its best light throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, died at his Newport Beach, Calif., home Friday at 2 a.m. PST. Funeral services have been scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 23.

Lewis, 81, died of heart failure. He had been in declining health for some months, and missed last month's Eclipse Awards in Los Angeles because of complications from kidney dialysis treatments.

"He went very peacefully," said his son, Jeff Lewis. "We brought him home (from the hospital) last Saturday. He wanted to come home; he didn't want to spend his final days in the hospital. He was resting comfortably and peacefully. He just ran out of gas. He just couldn't go on any longer.

"He had his family around him when he passed away. He had a wonderful life, and we'll miss him tremendously." Besides Jeff, Bob Lewis is survived by his wife, Beverly, and two other children, Nancy and Jimmy.

Lewis radiated the joy and a boyish wonder of a life well-lived whenever he spoke publicly about his horses and his past. He sprinkled his dialogue with the adjectives "magnificent" and "delightful" to the point where some might have considered him naïve. In truth, he was a hard-nosed businessman who built wildly successful careers in and out of racing.

Along with, Beverly, Bob Lewis spent mightily at yearling sales to build his stable of horses. Unlike many, however, he enjoyed a constant parade of superstar horses that etched the Lewis name at the top of racing's owner lists over the past decade.

Eclipse Awards vied for space on the mantel of the Lewises' waterfront home in Newport Beach. Along with an Eclipse of Merit honoring them in 1997, the Lewises captured Eclipse Awards as the owners of Timber Country (1994 2-year-old male), Serena's Song (1995 3-year-old filly), Silver Charm (1997 3-year-old male), Charismatic (1999 3-year-old male), Orientate (2002 sprinter), and Folklore (2005 2-year-old female).

Timber Country delivered the Lewises (in partnership with W.T. Young and Graham Beck) their first classic win when he captured the 1995 Preakness (gr. I). But it was Silver Charm, the fan favorite who dramatically won the 1997 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness, who brought them to the top of the Thoroughbred world. Just two years later, the Lewises again won those two classics, this time with the improbable Charismatic, a former claimer whose bid for the Triple Crown ended with a life-threatening injury in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). The Lewises' class was in full view that day, as their concern for the well-being of their horse superceded any disappointment they may have felt for having come so close to winning a Triple Crown.

They got their Belmont Stakes victory one year later with the out-of-nowhere longshot Commendable. Their Breeders' Cup victories came from Timber Country (1994 Juvenile, gr. I), Orientate in the 2002 Sprint (gr. I) and Folklore in the 2005 Alberto VO5 Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).

Much of the Lewises' success came when they teamed up with trainers D. Wayne Lukas (Serena's Song, Orientate, Folklore, Charismatic, and Commendable) and Bob Baffert (Silver Charm). The trainers could be seen at yearling sales jockeying for position around the Lewises as both competed to buy and train horses for the California couple.

Bob Lewis first went to the racetrack as a child in the 1930s, his parents taking him to Santa Anita Park and Del Mar shortly after those tracks opened. When Bob first began dating Beverly at the University of Oregon (the Lewises took their green and yellow silks from the university colors), Portland Meadows racetrack was a regular destination.

Bob Lewis followed his father into the brewing industry in Northern California before moving south and starting his own distributorships, Foothill Beverage Co. and Antelope Valley Distributing Co., selling Anheuser-Busch products. One of his major clients was Santa Anita, and he became a regular around Clockers Corner in the mornings. Bob and Beverly Lewis bought their first horses in 1990. Success first came a while later when they hooked up with Baffert and took the 1991 Cal Cup Juvenile with Ebonair.

In 1993, attending his first sale, Bob Lewis purchased a daughter of Rahy for $150,000. Serena's Song ended up giving her owners 11 grade I victories, and retired in 1996 as the leading female money earner of all time with nearly $3.3 million banked. The Lewises, alone or in partnership, raced 50 stakes winners and bred seven.

Bob Lewis also purchased a number of automobile dealerships in the 1970s, and created two major medical facilities, a neuro-imaging center at the University of Oregon that does brain research, and a family cancer care center in Pomona, Calif. He was active on numerous boards and Thoroughbred organizations.

Funeral services will be held Thursday, Feb. 23, at 11 a.m., at St. James Anglican Church, 3209 Via Lido, Newport Beach, Calif.

In lieu of flowers, Beverly Lewis asked that any memorials be directed toward the Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Foundation at 1798 N. Garey Avenue, Pomona, CA 91767