09/01/2007 11:49PM

Confirmation Day for Lawyer Ron


As the Saratoga meet began five weeks ago, it was unclear whether there were any really top-notch handicap horses left this year or even who the division's leader might be in the wake of Invasor's retirement. Eleven horses lined up in the Whitney July 28 with no one less than 4-1 in the betting. Now, after the 1:46.63 it took Lawyer Ron to win the Whitney by 5 3/4 lengths, and even more so after the 1:48.60 it took him to win the Woodward by 8 1/4 lengths Saturday, two things are clear: Lawyer Ron is the best older dirt horse in the country by a wide margin, and the only thing standing between him and the Horse of the Year title is the cream of the 3-year-old crop.

Let the debates begin. Whodayalike: Lawyer Ron vs. Street Sense, Any Given Saturday and Curlin? Maybe he's especially fond of Saratoga, and maybe these aren't exactly champions he's been beating up, but after what he did Saturday, Lawyer Ron is supposed to be the summer-book morning-line favorite for that hypothetical showdown.

That won't be confirmed with a particularly precise speed figure on anyone's numbers. Woodward Day was another weird one for the Saratoga main track, which didn't get much use in general and none beyond seven furlongs other than the Woodward. On a day when 6 of the 11 races were on turf, there were three straight dirt sprints early in the card, then nearly three hours until the Forego and Woodward. The Forego, won laughing by Midnight Lute for white-hot Baffert, was run in a blazing 1:21.06, which would give it a stratospheric figure if treated the same as the earlier sprints. (It might have deserved one, but we'll ponder that later.) Then came the Woodward, run nearly two full seconds slower than the bizarrely fast Whitney on a clearly slower track, but at face value getting a lower raw figure than the Forego.

Was it one of the many days when the sprints and routes need to be treated differently? That's a decision that can only be made on the basis of a single route. So, go figure. If you play the whole card straight, with no early/late or sprint/route variant split, the Forego would get a Beyer figure of over 120 and Lawyer Ron would get something equal to or slightly better than his Whitney. I can't wait to see what the Beyer team decides to do. [Update: Midnight Lute-124, Lawyer Ron-118.]

Visually, Lawyer Ron looked at least as strong and dominant as he did five weeks ago in the Whitney. He was on the muscle early and John Velazquez had to take a strong hold waiting for Wanderin Boy to clear so he could get off the rail and stalk from second. He did exactly that, then went after Wanderin Boy entering the far turn. For a moment it looked like he might have pushed the button too soon, and Corinthian seemed to be gaining as he made a move on the turn. But then Lawyer Ron just seemed to find another gear, as he did in the Whitney, and appeared to accelerate anew as he simply ran away from the field.

It's a little tough to gauge whether anyone ran his race behind him or if he's just that much better. Sun King, probably not as good now as when he was beaten a nose by HOTY Invasor in last year's Whitney, was up for a distant second, 8 1/4 behind Lawyer Ron and 1 1/4 in front of the ultra-consistent Diamond Stripes (beaten 5 3/4 in the Whitney.) Met Mile winner Corinthian and Suburban winner Political Force followed in fourth and fifth.

After the race, Pletcher -- who also won the Saturday features at Monmouth (Icy Atlantic) and Timonium (Somethinaboutbetty) -- said he was strongly considering the Jockey Club Gold Cup Sept. 30 for Lawyer Ron's next start. That would be 29 days between races with another 27 to the BC Classic. So unless Pletcher's going to train Lawyer Ron up to the Classic, the Gold Cup provides not only the proper stage for the colt but also just about perfect timing.

There's no question Lawyer Ron is a very good racehorse and his two performances this summer will resonate for years. He probably would have won both races by even more had they lasted another furlong, but his next two starts will be at a mile and a quarter, always a slightly different ballgame than a mile and an eighth, and a distance at which he twice failed last year, albeit in the Derby and Classic. He's a different horse now, obviously, but he'll still need to conquer 10 furlongs and the 3-year-olds, and do it outside Saratoga, to prove himself the Horse of the Year he has looked like this summer.

---Let's get back to the Forego. The three sprints run earlier in the day were split divisions of a 6.5f 2-year-old race, timed in 1:17.90 and 1:18.25, and an N2x allowance race that went in 1:23.97 for 7f. So, unless the main track changed during the next four grass races, that 1:21.06 in the Forego looks spectacular -- not only for Midnight Lute but also for Benny the Bull, who closed late to be beaten just 2 1/4 lengths. It was an astounding 9 1/4 lengths back to the third horse, the exhausted early dueller Attila's Storm, with duelee High Finance fading to 8th as the 2-1 favorite.

As duels go, though, the early fractions were nothing special. You'd expect 22 and 44 flat to set up that final time, but an unremarkable 22.86 and 45.24 were posted. Midnight Lute, sitting back in third early, was right on top of High Finance and Attila's Storm by the half, then cruised past them around the turn, opening a five-length lead in 1:08.95. Shawn Bridgmohan -- who only picked up the mount an hour earlier when Edgar Prado was injured after the 6th race -- kept after Midnight Lute, who skipped home in 12.11 for his final furlong while Benny the Bull closed in and everyone else seemed to be going backwards.

Midnight Lute was making his first start since April and was Baffert's fifth sensational winner here, following a quartet of stellar performances from his top juveniles --Maimonides won his debut by 11 1/2, More Happy won the Adirondack, J Be K. set a track record in his debut and Indian Blessing nearly equalled it in hers.
Baffert said after the race that Midnight Lute has had two throat procedures to correct breathing problems since his last start and that until today the colt has been additionally compromised by gate problems. If those issues are behind him, Midnight Lute could be getting scary-good at the right time. Benny the Bull, making his second start for Dutrow since being privately purchased by IEAH off some big-figure efforts in the midwest, also may be blossoming into a top sprinter-miler.

---The $66k carryover into the final Saturday of the meeting drew an additional $434,340 in pick-six bets, $1152 of them mine. I got back a whopping $120.80 for my trouble, the value of four consos on another day of five easy pieces and one head-scratcher, Bethpage Black at $83.50 in the second leg. That's the kind of outcome that usually works well for my method of multiple main and backup tickets, but I couldn't even make Bethpage Black a C, so I ended up with an "A-X-A-A-A-A" result, as did my many companions in those $30.20 consos. If either of the two favorites who ran 2-3 behind Bethpage Black had won, the thing probably would have paid about $1,000 to 300 people instead of $20,736 to 15 people who were smart enough to use Bethpage Black. I know, I know, first-time Contessa's a dangerous angle but geez, this horse was off a 13-month layoff and had 12 previous starts that weren't remotely competitive on paper. Oh well.

Those 15 people cashed by the slimmest of noses when favored Equitable barely got the bob over 20-1 Stalingrad in the finale. If it had gone the other way, and if I was reading the probables correctly, we would have had a $311k double-carryover into Sunday.

--A few other Saturday notes:

*Races 2&4: The baby races were hard to quantify because both were won by second-time starters who were beaten by double-digit margins in their debuts. In the 2nd, Zayat/Mott's Saada, beaten 10 3/4 in the Aug. 11 race won by The Leopard, wore down hot firster Golden Weekend to win by a half in 1:18.25. In the fourth, Zito trainee Sam's Passion, second by 11 1/2 to Maimonides, led all the way and won a three-way photo from two firsters in 1:17.90. Maimonides returns Monday as the second choice to Ready's Image in the four-horse closing-day Hopeful.

Races 6&8: The Queen of the Turf Sprints struck twice. Linda Rice won both of the day's short grass races for statebreds, taking the 6th with juvenile firster Hussonfirst (great name for a Hussonet colt) and the 8th with allowance filly Karakorum Electra. Bill Mott (who also doubled, with Saada and Equitable) is running away with the trainer's title with 23 winners, but it's a great race to complete the exacta: with their winners today, Contessa, Pletcher and Rice moved into a four-way tie for second with Rick Dutrow with 12 each.

--Two streaks came to an end in the 5th race: Dubliner wasn't favored and he didn't finish second or third. After a career of a third, six seconds and another third -- the last seven as the losing favorite -- Dubliner checked in 7th in a non-effort. The favorite this time? Dubliner-wannabe Howdyamissthisone, who ran second for the fourth straight time. On the other hand, with second place in statebred maiden races now worth $11,400, who's in any hurry to get out of the condition?