07/30/2012 3:02PM

Del Mar: Law Dog follows unusual path to Graduation Stakes

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DEL MAR, Calif. – Although well-traveled 2-year-old Law Dog has not broken any rules, he and the family that owns him are bending tradition.

First of all, Law Dog was not expected to mature so soon.

“The Unusual Heats, you don’t see many of them that are precocious and get started real early,” trainer Tevis McCauley said.

And yet here is Law Dog, three starts into his career and already one of the favorites in a Del Mar stakes Wednesday – the $100,000 Graduation Stakes for California-bred or -sired 2-year-olds.

Furthermore, Law Dog was conceived in California, foaled in Kentucky, and has raced three times, in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Indiana. How crazy is that? Horses with a California pedigree that is as rich as Law Dog stay home. No one told the owner-breeder.

And no one told Ron McCauley how rare it is to win a major race on his first day as a new owner. Golden Doc A won the 2008 Las Virgenes in her first start for McCauley.

“It spoiled us,” he said. “We bought her, and in her first race she won a Grade 1. We were hooked after that.”

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The fairy-tale story is still unfolding for Ron and Angie McCauley, parents to five sons, including trainer Tevis, 28; their Kentucky farm manager Alex, 26; and bloodstock adviser Nathan, 29. Two older sons, Ryan and Tyson, assist in the family automobile retail business in Kentucky.

While McCauley has been in the car business his entire career, his sons pushed for an expansion of family interests. “Dad, let’s buy a racehorse,” they repeated.

McCauley tiptoed into the yearling sales in 2007, and in 2008 started buying racehorses. Golden Doc A, an Unusual Heat filly trained by Barry Abrams, was the family’s first winner.

In summer 2008, Nathan McCauley suggested claiming Exquisite Beauty for $32,000. Exquisite Beauty is a California-bred by Bertrando, and her sister Perfectly Pretty had produced Grade 1-wininng sprinter Idiot Proof. Exquisite Beauty did not hit the board in six starts for the McCauleys, but it did not matter. Her future was to be a broodmare.

“For the money, we felt she would be a mare we could take to Unusual Heat,” Ron McCauley said. “Bertrando mares do real well with the cross” to Unusual Heat.

It was another good plan. Law Dog matured rapidly for Tevis McCauley, whose training base is Keeneland. Law Dog worked 46.80 seconds from the gate in early May, fastest of the morning, and McCauley started shopping for a spot.

“We had high expectations before his first start,” he said.

Law Dog broke slowly, rushed up, and tired to third in his debut, which came at Presque Isle Downs. Next out, he finished fourth with a bad trip at Churchill Downs and then put it all together with a six-length maiden crusher July 3 at Indiana Downs.

The next stop was California, finally. Although listed as a Kentucky-bred, Law Dog is “California-sired” and therefore eligible to California statebred stakes. The Graduation is the first of two such stakes this summer at Del Mar. The next is the $150,000 I’m Smokin on Aug. 23.

“We definitely will stay for the I’m Smokin as long as he runs well and comes out well,” McCauley said. “And we wouldn’t throw out the Grade 1 at the end of the meet. We know we have a good horse, and we’ll let him tell us where to go.”

McCauley, who began training in 2009, has won 74 races from 398 starters (18 percent). His three starters Wednesday at Del Mar will be his first starters in California.

Garrett Gomez rides Law Dog, who breaks from post 5. His main rival is Strong Wind, fourth in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile 18 days ago for trainer Steve Knapp. Others in the 5 1/2-furlong Graduation include Just Call Me Al, Lovmeister, and Weewinnin.