09/19/2006 12:00AM

It's Lawyer Ron's homecoming


The question of how a 2-year-old colt named Lawyer Ron would handle two turns on dirt was answered emphatically in the eighth race at Louisiana Downs in Bossier City, La., on Dec. 9. Sent off as the favorite, Lawyer Ron romped by 10 3/4 lengths in the off-the-turf allowance, igniting a six-race win streak in which he remained unbeaten in two-turn dirt races, right up to the Kentucky Derby in May.

Saturday is his homecoming. Lawyer Ron returns to Louisiana Downs as one of the top 3-year-olds of his generation, and the horse to beat in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby. The 1 1/8-mile race is the richest of the meet, and the field is also expected to include Strong Contender, winner of the Grade 2 Dwyer at Belmont Park in July, and Point Determined, whose most recent win came in the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park in June.

But neither has a resume as impressive as Lawyer Ron's. This year he is 5 for 6, and with earnings of $1,240,800 in those races he ranks as the year's fifth-highest-paid racehorse in North America. The foundation for his outstanding season was laid at Louisiana Downs, in that off-the-turf race in December.

"I would say that it was probably the turning point in his whole career," said Bob Holthus, who trains Lawyer Ron. "From then on, we never ran him on the turf. He dominated that field, and I knew there were a couple of horses in there several trainers liked fairly well. He just completely dominated and he went on from there."

Lawyer Ron closed out his 2-year-old year with a wire-to-wire win in the $100,000 Diamond Jo Mile at Evangeline Downs in Opelousas, La., on Dec. 31. He was back at Louisiana Downs on Jan. 14, stamping himself as a serious player on the Triple Crown trail with a front-running win in the Grade 3, $250,000 Risen Star in his first start at 3.

The race was run as part of a special Fair Grounds meet moved to Louisiana Downs because of the damage Hurricane Katrina inflicted on Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The performance locked up horse-of-the-meet honors for Lawyer Ron, and the Beyer Speed Figure of 106 that he earned in it remains his top number in a career in which he has won 8 of 16 starts. The win was also his second in two career starts at Louisiana Downs.

"He gets over that surface really well, and I think he's going to run a huge race over that track this Saturday," said John McKee, the regular rider of Lawyer Ron.

McKee has reasons to look forward to the race. Lawyer Ron has turned in strong works for the Super Derby, which will be his second start since having a bone chip removed from his right hind ankle following his 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He won his comeback race on Aug. 25, rallying from fifth to win the $250,000 St. Louis Derby at Fairmount Park.

"He showed a lot of determination," said Holthus. "He made a good run around the turn.

"I think he's more relaxed now. You can probably take him back further. It's just maturity. He's gotten older, has a little more seasoning."

Lawyer Ron came from farther off the pace than he ever had before in the St. Louis Derby, running a race that was somewhat similar to his off-the-pace score in the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park in March. Except it was better, said McKee.

"He did it more professionally," he said. "He handled the kickback a lot better. In the Rebel, he started climbing. This time, he just settled in and did it a lot more professionally. I think he's a better horse right now. He's matured."

The race also impressed Barry Irwin, the bloodstock agent who represented buyers Richard and Audrey Haisfield of Stonewall Farms. They purchased a majority interest in Lawyer Ron just days before the Kentucky Derby.

"The best thing about that last race," Irwin said, "was that even though the horse was really fresh, he rated kindly and gave [McKee] a good run when he asked him."

Irwin followed Lawyer Ron closely this winter at Oaklawn. The colt swept the track's series for 3-year-olds, winning the $100,000 Southwest wire-to-wire on Feb. 25, just days after the death of the colt's breeder and owner, James T. Hines Jr. He went on to win the Rebel and the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

"I thought he had a great way of going," said Irwin. "You don't see horses that can go to the front like that and also are explosive."

Louisiana Downs could again play a key role in the career of Lawyer Ron this Saturday, this time shaping the direction of his fall campaign. A win in the Super Derby might also make him horse of the meet at the track for the second time in 2006.