Regardless of Albert Hammond’s opinion that “It Never Rains in Southern California,” the weather figures to have quite an impact on the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita.
There’s plenty of rain in the forecast between now and Saturday afternoon, when the 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race will be contested, but remember, the main track at Santa Anita has an unusual way of handling rain. Whereas some tracks get slow and sticky in the mud, Santa Anita typically gets fast—blazingly fast and speed-favoring, to be exact.
That would certainly play to the strengths of #5 Mucho Gusto, who figures to start as the favorite for trainer Bob Baffert, who has won the Robert B. Lewis six times in the past. This son of Mucho Macho Man has been headed by exactly one horse in his career, that being his talented stablemate and top Kentucky Derby contender Improbable, who passed Mucho Gusto in the homestretch of the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) about two months ago.
Otherwise, Mucho Gusto has done nothing wrong, breaking his maiden in gate-to-wire fashion at Los Alamitos before stepping up in class to win the seven-furlong Bob Hope Stakes (gr. III) over the capable sprinter Savagery. It remains to be seen just how far Mucho Gusto wants to run, but he was clearly second-best in the Los Alamitos Futurity after setting a steady pace, and he earned solid speed figures for that effort.
The bigger factor in Mucho Gusto’s favor is that he looms as a potential lone front-runner in the Robert B. Lewis. Whereas his rivals are primarily pace-pressing/late-running types that very rarely post BRIS E1 pace figures of 90 or higher, Mucho Gusto has throw down E1 figures of 97, 92, and 91 in his first three starts, and the fact that he’s never been headed during the first six furlongs of a race suggests that he’ll have little difficulty securing the lead on Saturday. If the track comes up “wet fast” and speed-favoring, that could make him impossible to catch.
Such a track could also put #4 Gunmetal Gray at a disadvantage, considering that he took advantage of a tiring, closer-favoring track to win the Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita one month ago. Gunmetal Gray has solid back class that includes a runner-up effort in the American Pharoah Stakes (gr. I), and he doesn’t necessarily have to race as a one-dimensional deep closer, but trying to catch Mucho Gusto over a wet track could be easier said than done. And from a BRIS and Beyer speed figure perspective, he hardly boasts any advantage at all over Mucho Gusto.
Actually, #6 Nolo Contesto—a recent maiden winner going a mile at Santa Anita—might have a bit more tactical speed than Gunmetal Gray and could sit a perfect trip stalking Mucho Gusto through the early stages of the race. As a son of Pioneerof the Nile, he’s bred to enjoy a wet track, and I can certainly envision Nolo Contesto rounding out the exacta at better odds than Gunmetal Gray. Under the right circumstances, he might even spring an upset.
Here’s how I would play the race: