Bob Baffert sends two into the Grade II Robert B. Lewis on Saturday -- an established star and a horse that could be on the serious improve.
Liaison, sired by 1998 Santa Anita Derby winner Indian Charlie and owned by Arnold Zetcher -- whose Midnight Interlude won the Santa Anita Derby last year – returns to action following a seven-week layoff after winning the Grade I CashCall Futurity. He will face seven on Saturday.
The neck victory over fellow Lewis entrant, the closing Rousing Sermon, was the third win in four starts for Liaison and followed a half-length score over Rousing Sermon in the Real Quiet Stakes. Both races were contested at the Lewis distance of 1 1/16 mile, and both were raced over Hollywood Park’s artificial Cushion Track.
Liaison, however, demonstrated his affinity for Santa Anita’s course when breaking his maiden by 2 1/2 lengths going seven furlongs on Oct. 14.
Following his penultimate workout for the Lewis, Baffert said, “He just keeps moving forward.” Rafael Bejarano will again ride the $290,000 yearling sales purchase in the Lewis.
A winner of four Santa Anita riding titles but yet to win his first Santa Anita Derby, Bejarano said he is confident about his future with Liaison. “He’s just going to improve off of this race,” Bejarano said following the CashCall. “I’m really happy with this horse. He has done an awesome job with him.”
Liaison is no shoo-in; he's twice been put to the test to get the better of Rousing Sermon. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee flew home from eleventth to miss by a neck in the CashCall, and a similar rally fell a half-length short in the Real Quiet. Rousing Sermon, like Liaison, won his only previous start on dirt in Santa Anita’s $100,000 California Cup Juvenile Stakes on Oct. 29.
The homebred son of Lucky Pulpit retains the riding services of Joe Talamo. Rousing Sermon raced six times as a 2-year-old while posting a 2-2-2 record for earnings of $274,000. “We’re all ready to go,” Hollendorfer said following a recent drill at Santa Anita.
Liaison will be joined in the Lewis lineup by stable mate Sky Kingdom, fourth in the Futurity and the winner of a Jan. 12 allowance race at Santa Anita by 4 1/2 lengths. “I hate to run them against each other,” said Baffert, explaining that his options were few. Martin Garcia will ride the son of Empire Maker who has won two of five starts.
The Lewis is on the same card as the Strub and Arcadia Stakes.
The Lewis, formerly run as the Santa Catalina, was renamed in 2007 to memorialize the popular owner and philanthropist who had been one of Baffert’s major clients prior to his passing in 2006.
--Edited Santa Anita release with additional content by Dick Downey