Widow Lewis brings contender on her own

Published: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - Beverly Lewis is bringing another contender trained by Bob Baffert to the Kentucky Derby. This time, though, she'll be without the most important Bob, her late husband.
The Lewises were the first couple of thoroughbred racing, winning the Derby with Silver Charm in 1997 and Charismatic in 1999. Both colts just missed winning the Triple Crown.
Along the way, the college sweethearts who were married 58 years charmed an industry known for its competitiveness and jealousy. They were gracious in victory and upbeat in defeat.
The late Chris Antley, who rode Charismatic, once compared the Lewises to Chip and Dale, the cheerful Disney cartoon chipmunks who always looked out for one another.
Now, Beverly is on her own, helped by her oldest son, Jeff, who is overseeing the family's racing operations and finances. After her husband's death, she never considered selling off any of their 60 horses.
"I would have carried on by myself, somehow, someway, because Mr. Lewis loved it so much and I do, too," she said. "We were really partners in the business."
Bob Lewis died Feb. 17 at 81 in the couple's harbor-front home on Lido Isle across from Newport Beach. The former World War II platoon sergeant had survived three heart attacks and two bypasses before his heart finally gave out.
Bob Lewis died knowing he was leaving his wife "pretty loaded up with horses," the trainer said.
The most promising is Point Determined, the son of 2001 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Point Given, who finished fifth as the 9-5 wagering favorite in the Kentucky Derby. Baffert trained Point Given, too.
"He was surprised that he made 80," said Beverly, who joked with Bob that he did so because of her good care. "About a year ago, I sensed a difference in him."
In public, though, Bob Lewis remained cheerful and downplayed his declining health.
Point Determined earned his way to Louisville by finishing second to Brother Derek in the Santa Anita Derby.
Having the couple's green-and-gold racing silks in the Kentucky Derby barely two months after Bob Lewis' death has been healing for Beverly, her three grown children and four grandchildren.
"It's given her a lot to think about and be excited about, and helped her in making the transition to Dad not being there for her," said Jeff Lewis, who previously ran his father's wholesale beer distributorship and races historic sports cars as a hobby.
"She's not up at Santa Anita at 6 in the morning like my dad used to, but she likes watching her horses run and the social side of it. It's a blessed thing that this sort of legacy has been left to Mom."
The biggest challenge for Beverly Lewis will come later this week, when she returns to Churchill Downs without Bob. Jeff and other family members will be supporting her, but she knows it won't be the same.
"Some things kind of trigger your feelings, so it's just kind of holding myself together so I don't fall apart," she said.
At the same time, she talks about her late husband in a steady voice and without tears, explaining, "You have to keep up. He wouldn't want it any other way."
Baffert will be busy this week, too, preparing to saddle a trio of horses in the Derby, a race he's won three times. Besides Point Determined, he has Sinister Minister and Bob and John, owned by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.
But his thoughts linger on Bob Lewis, who, unlike most owners, didn't try to tell Baffert how to train.
"I always told him he should have done a video on how to be a racehorse owner. He had a passion for it and he had fun and he could take the knocks," Baffert said.
"There are a lot of clients out there that might have a lot of money, but they're just not fast enough to pull the trigger. He could pull the trigger."
Sometimes too quickly for his wife's tastes.
"She sent him out to buy a carton of milk and he came back with a new car," Baffert said.
The Lewises paid $750,000 for Point Determined last year. Baffert has fielded offers in recent weeks from people wanting to buy the colt or partner with Beverly Lewis.
She has rejected them all. "I'd rather buy than sell," she said. "They're not in my backyard, but I have some connection some way with them."
Baffert gets on well with Beverly Lewis and now Jeff, who is learning the thoroughbred business as he goes along. But Baffert misses the connection he had with Bob.
"For me, it's still sad," he said. "Bob and I were very close. He meant so much to me and my operation. He loved my family and my family loves him."
Beverly Lewis turns 79 two days after the Derby. Bob Lewis' birthday is four days later. She's certain she could find room to display a third gold trophy in their home.
"That would be a real nice present for both of us," she said.

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