St. Timothy's dropout trains fleet filly Has high hopes for American Royale

April 12, 1992|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

Arazi is probably the world's fastest 3-year-old colt.

But the quickest 3-year-old filly just might be American Royale.

The undefeated Florida-bred, who has won four career starts by a total of nearly 30 lengths and reappeared in dazzling fashion in the Blue Norther Stakes at Aqueduct last weekend, has never raced locally.

But she is trained by a young woman with solid Maryland connections.

Lisa Lewis, 22, was just a teen-ager and a sophomore at St. Timothy's School in Green Spring Valley when she astonished her father, well-known Maryland horseman Jim Lewis, and dropped out of school to join her mother, Penny, on the backstretch of Florida racetracks.

"He said, 'You're doing what?' " Lisa recalls.

"It was hard for him to understand, but the only thing I ever wanted to do was train horses. At the time, I had just come back from spending the summer with my mother at Canterbury Downs in Minneapolis. I was 17 and running the shed for her. We had 25 horses. Going from that lifestyle back to a girls boarding school seemed at that point just a waste of time. I figured I could finish school at night, which I did."

Jim and Penny Lewis were regarded as one of the state's golden horse-oriented couples when they first moved to Maryland from Charlottesville, Va., nearly 30 years ago. They had a large racing stable with Bud Delp and purchased the sprawling Three Cousins Farm in Hydes and renamed it Pennyacres.

They had three children -- Bridgette, 26, Lisa and Jim Jr., 19.

But the Lewises divorced and the farm was sold. Jim stayed in Maryland, relocated in the Annapolis area where he is in the horse business with his close companion, international dressage rider Linda Zang. He still maintains about five or six horses in training -- some with Lisa, some at the Bowie Training Center with Donald Barr. He has four broodmares, including multiple stakes winner Noblest Heart.

Penny, meanwhile, moved to Florida, where she trained race horses. She has since married Minneapolis businessman Wheelock Whitney.

Lisa was 19 "when I went out on my own at Tampa Bay Downs," she said. "I managed to put together a group of four horses and won my first race at Tampa with a filly named Sheltered Life, who was owned by my dad and Richards Rolapp."

By 21, Lisa began to make her mark by racing during the summer at Canterbury Downs. "The summer of 1990, I won 17 races and two stakes there and ended up the leading percentage trainer at the meet," she said. "Even now, most of my clients are Minnesota people."

By this time, Lisa and her mother had established a perfect working relationship. "Mom has a good eye for a horse, and is now a sales agent," Lisa said. "She selects young horses for our clients at the sales and I concentrate on training them at the track."

It was Penny who bought American Royale last spring for $40,000 at one of the Florida 2-year-old in-training sales for Minnesotan Bill Dudley.

Just when Lisa began prospering as a trainer, the fortunes of Canterbury Downs went into severe decline, "so I took my horses to Monmouth Park last summer," she said.

That is where American Royale debuted, winning her first start by eight lengths and running five furlongs in 56 2/5 seconds.

After that, Dudley sold half the filly to Will Farish, the Kentucky racing giant and "first friend" to President Bush.

In Farish's colors, American Royale won two more races, including the Grade II Adirondack Stakes at Saratoga. Lewis then stopped on the filly. She wintered her in Florida, then mapped a 1992 New York campaign which started with the Blue Norther Stakes last weekend. The filly raced six furlongs in 1:09 4/5, winning by 9 1/2 lengths.

Lewis is pointing her for the New York Triple Crown for fillies with the Acorn Stakes May 29, as the filly's next major objective.

Meanwhile, the whole Lewis family is involved in some facet of the horse business.

Bridgette lives in Saratoga, N.Y., rides dressage horses and is Lisa's accountant.

Jim Jr. graduated from McDonogh School last year, was an MSA shot put and discus champion and is helping coach McDonogh's track and field team in weight events this spring. He starts at Dickinson College next year, but is a partner with his father in the their first joint racehorse, a 3-year-old named Frank's Pool, which finished ninth in a field of nine in Pimlico's 11th race yesterday.

Jim Lewis, meanwhile, said he has become accustomed to his daughter's career choice as a horse trainer, even if it meant forsaking a more formal education.

"I'm just known in the horse business now as Lisa Lewis' dad," he said.

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