John Cox is the staff writer in Churchill Downs’ publicity department this meet, penning the daily press notes. From Lexington, he is a former brand ambassador for America’s Best Racing, a marketing initiative of The Jockey Club and National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Cox had a chance to interview the Miami Heat’s Rashard Lewis. As it turns out, Lewis and his friend and horse partner Jake Ballis won Sunday’s allowance feature at Churchill Downs with the Bill Mott-trained filly White Rose. This is a great read!
MIAMI HEAT’S LEWIS SEEKING NBA FINALS/ROYAL ASCOT DOUBLE
By: John Cox
While Miami Heat Forward Rashard Lewis will be fighting to keep his hopes of a second consecutive NBA Finals Championship alive in Game 5 in San Antonio Sunday night, he has a competing interest across the pond on June 21 when his 2-year-old colt Cordero (IRE) will make his maiden debut in the Chestham Stakes at the world-famous Royal Ascot meeting for trainer Wesley Ward.
After being rather quiet for the majority of his first two seasons with the Heat in limited minutes, the 34-year-old former NBA All-Star has emerged as a huge asset to his team’s playoff success since being named a starter for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers.
Lewis has averaged 25 minutes and nearly 9 points per game in his last 8 starts with the Heat, including 18-for-42 from beyond the 3-point line.
Lewis is no stranger to success in the Thoroughbred racing game either. Along with long-time friend Jake Ballis, the two campaigned Cigar Street, winner of the 2013 Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott; Join in the Dance, who finished seventh in the 2009 Kentucky Derby for trainer Todd Pletcher, and Mean Season, who is undefeated through three starts as a 4-year-old and ran a 109 Beyer figure in his last race, also trained by Mott.
Through Ballis, Lewis also has become close with Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero Jr., who serves as an adviser and eye to Ballis and Lewis on their bloodstock purchases. Cordero also serves as the jockey agent for Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who has ridden several mounts for the partners over the years.
“I’ve always wanted to name a horse after Angel because he has been a mentor and one of my closest friends,” Ballis said. “He never would let me name one after him until he found one that he thought would be special. We watched Cordero train every couple weeks at Wesley’s training center in Miami, and one day Angel called me and said, ‘if you still want to name a horse after me, you can with the Giant’s Causeway.”
The connections of the renowned Coolmore Stud are also co-owners in Cordero and the Irish-bred will race under the ownership of Magnier/Tabor/Smith/Ballis/Lewis with recent Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning jockey Victor Espinoza at the reigns for the Chestham Stakes.
“I checked to see if the name was available and it was. I also checked with our co-owners at Coolmore and they thought it was a wonderful name.”
Despite his busy schedule, Lewis was able to answer a few questions about his recent performance in the playoffs, his relationship with Angel Cordero Jr. and the racing industry in general:
On his success in the playoffs – “I’m sure a lot of people are surprised because I haven’t played a lot of minutes the last couple years but I never lost faith in my abilities and I’m just trying to help out any way I can.”
On the future of his NBA career – “As long as my body feels the way it does now I am very confident I can play at a high level for another couple years. Coming off the bench or starting doesn’t matter to me one bit. I just want to win.”
Prospective of winning the Finals this year versus last year – “Last year was very special to me because it was my first championship. If we happen to win this year it will be very special to me as well.”
On relationship with Angel Cordero Jr. – “I have learned so much about horse racing because of Angel. When you watch a race with him it’s like he’s still riding. He knows what every jockey will do before they do it.”
Ever been to England? – “I have never been to England.”
On watching a race from Royal Ascot – “I’ve never watched a race live from Ascot. I used to make sure I didn’t miss Black Caviar run but that wasn’t at Ascot. I have watched several replays this week of past 2-year-old races from Ascot. It looks like a really special place.”
On the Royal Ascot dress code – “If we weren’t in the Finals I would be there to watch Cordero in whatever dress code they require.”
Track you’d most like to see that you have not been to yet? – “Santa Anita – because the weather is nice and I always see it on TV during the Breeders Cup. It looks really nice.”
One horse that really got you hooked on racing? – “My favorite horse was Zenyatta. She got me hooked.”
On the prospective of other professional athletes getting involved in racing – “If athletes went to the races more and to the backside in the morning I think more people would get involved because as an athlete we can relate to what the horses go through. Training routine, injuries, massages, etc. I hope more people will get involved.”