Lewis tests waters with her Capsized

Maryland-bred trainer dreaming of Kentucky

April 02, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ARCADIA, Calif. -- Lisa Lewis spotted the penny in the dirt and considered picking it up. But first, she wanted to know, was it heads or tails?

When you've done the best you can with the first good 3-year-old you've ever had, you resort at last to superstition.

That's where Lewis, a 29-year-old native of Maryland, finds herself on the eve of the Santa Anita Derby. And that's exactly where she wants to be.

"This is what you want all the time, the 3-year-old going to the big races," Lewis said outside her barn at Santa Anita Park. "It's really kind of the dream. You know, Maryland and the Preakness and all that kind of stuff."

"All that kind of stuff" includes that other little race known as the Kentucky Derby. If her "3-year-old going to the big races" runs impressively tomorrow in the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby, Lewis will attempt to become the first female trainer -- and one of the youngest trainers ever -- to win the country's most glamorous race, the Kentucky Derby.

Her hopes rest with Capsized, a powerful, stretch-running son of Summer Squall, the tenacious 1990 Kentucky Derby runner-up and Preakness winner.

Yesterday, Capsized drew post position 4 in the eight-horse field. Track oddsmaker Jeff Tufts burdened Capsized with 8-1 morning-line odds.

Curiously, Tufts named Desert Hero the 5-2 favorite, although nearly everyone at Santa Anita believes Prime Timber will be the bettors' choice.

Lewis said she expected Capsized to be one of the long shots.

"I think he still has to prove himself," she said. "He deserves to be there, but I can see why other horses are getting more attention. He's been that way his whole career. I don't think he's ever gone off less than 5-1."

He went off at 8-1 in his most recent race, the one-mile San Rafael Stakes Feb. 28 at Santa Anita Park. Desert Hero won with a near-unbelievable late surge after a trouble-filled journey.

That was only his second race. Lewis said that Desert Hero, a son of 1993 Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero, could be a superstar.

But Capsized didn't have a bad trip in the San Rafael, either.

Shuffled back to last at the first turn, he wove in and out in the homestretch looking for room. Finally, his jockey, Alex Solis, swung him extremely wide, and Capsized charged under the wire third, a mere half-length behind the runner-up, Prime Timber.

After Capsized's impressive -- but overlooked -- effort against some of California's top 3-year-olds, Lewis discovered a tiny crack in the colt's left front hoof. A blacksmith patched it, and Lewis said Capsized has shown no ill effects in morning workouts.

"You'd rather not have it than have it," she said. "You want everything to be 100 percent going into these races. Unfortunately, in this business it doesn't always work that way."

For Lewis, however, things in the business have gone pretty well. She has trained on her own since she was 19. At 21, she saddled a stakes winner at Saratoga, the speedy sprinter American Royale.

Lewis is Maryland-bred, the product of parents immersed in horse racing, Penny and Jim Lewis. She grew up on their farm in Hydes during the years her father engaged in the famed "claiming wars" with Bud Delp, John Tammaro, King Leatherbury and Dick Dutrow. Delp is her godfather.

Her parents are divorced, but her father, now remarried, still lives in Maryland on a horse farm in Davidsonville. Lewis trains mostly out of New York, bringing Capsized to California because she believed this was the best place to prepare him for the Kentucky Derby.

Santa Anita offers more stakes options for 3-year-olds than Gulfstream Park in Florida. And it didn't escape Lewis that Bob Baffert, trainer of the past two Kentucky Derbies, got there from California.

But the trainer Lewis learned the most from about the Kentucky classic is Nick Zito. She dated him for four years, and during that time he won the 1994 Derby with Go For Gin.

"His whole life focuses on these races," Lewis said. "He'll tell you you don't have to win every race getting there, but come that first Saturday in May, you have to be at your best.

"This horse reminds me of the type of horse Nick would have. He keeps getting a little better. He's knocking at the door. If everything falls right, maybe he'll get lucky."

But first, there's the matter of that penny in the dirt. Lewis spotted it while walking back to her barn from the racetrack.

She bent over to pick it up. Heads or tails? She jerked her hand back as if that penny were a rattlesnake. It was tails. She walked on, smiling.

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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