04/04/2007 12:00AM

Crowd favorites race for new barns


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Round Pond and Lawyer Ron are two of the most popular horses to race at Oaklawn Park, with six major stakes wins at the track between them. But when they make their homecoming in separate stakes here Saturday, it will be under new circumstances.

Both horses have changed barns and riders since racing here a year ago, when Lawyer Ron swept the 3-year-old series with trainer Bob Holthus and jockey John McKee, and Round Pond edged Happy Ticket in a thrilling Grade 3 Azeri Breeders' Cup for trainer John Servis and jockey Stewart Elliott. Furthermore, both horses wintered this year in Florida, as opposed to being based in Arkansas.

Round Pond, the highweight for the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, and Lawyer Ron, the highweight for the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap, will both be ridden by Edgar Prado on Saturday. Michael Matz now trains Round Pond, and Todd Pletcher trains Lawyer Ron.

Lawyer Ron is 3 for 3 here, and among his wins is the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby. Round Pond is 5 for 6 over the past two seasons at Oaklawn, and counts among her wins the Grade 2, $200,000 Fantasy. Their local records are part of the reason why they are here.

"It seemed like the logical thing to do," Pletcher said of shipping Lawyer Ron for the Oaklawn Handicap. "The horse has a very good record at Oaklawn for Mr. Holthus, and we felt like he should like the track, the spacing was good and it's obviously a nice purse. So, we felt like this was a good race to point for."

The story is much the same for Round Pond.

"It always helps when a horse likes the track where you're going to," said Matz. "She ran a real nice race last year in the Azeri, and hopefully she can duplicate it this year."

Lawyer Ron comes into the Oaklawn Handicap off a 3 1/4-length win in an optional claiming race at a mile at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 11. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 in that race and indicated he has the potential to make an impact in a one-turn race like the Grade 1, $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 28.

"The one race we talked about after this would be, hopefully, the Met Mile," said Pletcher. "He ran well, of course, the first time we ran him this year at a one-turn mile, so we were happy to see that. And I feel like as a stallion prospect, the Met Mile would be a race that might be able to enhance his value."

Round Pond's long-term goal this year is a return trip to the Breeders' Cup Distaff, said Matz. She won the race by 5 1/2 lengths in November at Churchill Downs, her second Grade 1 victory. She also won the Acorn in 2005. Round Pond comes into the Apple Blossom off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 Rampart Handicap at Gulfstream Park on March 11. It was her first start since the Breeders' Cup. Matz said Round Pond had tied up in the week leading up to the race, and hopes that is behind her for the Apple Blossom.

"She should be fine," he said.

Matz said he has a lot of respect for Round Pond, who joined his stable in the summer of 2006.

"She wins a lot of races, and she has a very big heart," he said. "She tries as hard as she can, and she has lots of ability."

Fields set at Wednesday draw

Round Pond drew post 7 in a field of eight for the Apple Blossom, which will go as the eighth race Saturday. The complete field from the rail, with riders is: Lemons Forever, Mark Guidry; Rahys' Appeal, Alex Solis; India, Joe Bravo; Ermine, Eddie Castro; Take D' Tour, Eibar Coa; River Savage, Omar Berrio; Round Pond; and Baghdaria, Eddie Razo Jr.

Lawyer Ron drew post 5 in a field of seven for the Oaklawn, which will go as the 10th race. The field from the rail, with riders, is: Brother Bobby, Elliott; Jonesboro, Calvin Borel; Smokeyjonessutton, Guidry; Papi Chullo, Coa; Lawyer Ron; McCann's Mojave, Frank Alvarado; Boboman, Solis.

Papi Chullo will add blinkers for the Oaklawn Cap.

New schedule for festival

Oaklawn will not race this Sunday because of Easter. With the holiday falling in the middle of the nine-stakes Racing Festival of the South, which is run over the last six days of the meet, the series will open on Friday. Last year, the festival opened with a Saturday program highlighted by the Apple Blossom and Oaklawn.

"It's a little different from the lineup last year, and that's all due to Easter," said Pat Pope, racing secretary at Oaklawn. "Every so many years, this happens."

The Grade 2 Fantasy, which last year was run the day before the meet closed, opens the festival this year. The Good Friday card tends to be a big day for Oaklawn, said Pope. In other changes, the Grade 3 Count Fleet is being run next Friday, April 13, instead of its usual Thursday spot, said Pope.

In all, the nine festival stakes are worth $2.8 million.