08/29/2007 11:00PM

Lawyer Ron out to grab top spot

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Joseph DiOrio/Horsephotos
Lawyer Ron set a track record winning the Whitney in July, and a victory in Saturday+s Woodward would tighten his grip on the handicap division.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The handicap division has been in search of a clear-cut leader since the retirement of defending Horse of the Year Invasor back in June. Perhaps Lawyer Ron can assume the position in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga.

The Woodward, run at 1 1/8 miles over the main track, tops an 11-race card that also includes the Grade 1 Forego Stakes for sprinters, featuring High Finance and Attila's Storm.

Lawyer Ron enters the Woodward off a track-record performance in last month's Whitney Handicap, running 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.64 despite breaking from post 10 in an 11-horse field. Lawyer Ron faces five of the same foes he vanquished that day, along with Suburban winner Political Force and Metropolitan Handicap victor Corinthian.

Trainer Todd Pletcher felt Lawyer Ron benefited from the outside post in the Whitney because jockey John Velazquez didn't have to take a strong hold of the light-mouthed horse early. On Saturday, Lawyer Ron will break from the rail, a post that Pletcher felt compromised Lawyer Ron when he finished third in the Metropolitan Handicap, one of two losses incurred by the 4-year-old colt this year.

"One extreme to the other," a disappointed Pletcher said. "Hopefully, we can work out a trip from it. Obviously, Wanderin Boy is the main speed, but it depends how much speed a couple of other horses show."

A victory by Lawyer Ron could vault him to the top of the handicap division. He has already won the Oaklawn Park Handicap and the Whitney, in what Pletcher said "could be the strongest performance of any horse this year." He lost the Grade 3 Salvator Mile by a nose to Gottcha Gold, who returned to win the Grade 2 Philip Iselin Handicap.

Pletcher will also send out Magna Graduate, who Pletcher felt was compromised by an inside trip when he finished sixth as the 4-1 favorite in the Whitney.

"I think Magna Graduate ran a decent race in the Whitney," Pletcher said. "He just unfortunately was stuck down on the inside the whole way, which he doesn't really like, plus he kind of had to check about the eighth pole, which cost him a placing."

Political Force won the Suburban, but was drifting out badly late in the race. Trainer Allen Jerkens said he couldn't find anything wrong with the horse, and said his plan was to skip the Whitney and freshen for a fall campaign that includes the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic.

In typical Jerkens fashion, the Hall of Fame trainer gave Political Force three stamina-building workouts in close proximity, including a mile move in 1:41.12 last Sunday. Jerkens also planned to blow him out Friday morning.

"I think he's going okay," Jerkens said. "There's no way of telling for sure till the race is over. You just hope your horse runs his race. If the horse runs his race, he's going to be there somewhere. If he doesn't run his race, all this talk amounts to nothing."

Political Force will break from post 7 under leading rider Cornelio Velasquez.

After winning the Met Mile, Corinthian ran terribly in the Suburban, finishing last as the favorite. He was not found to have any physical issues, and has been pointing to this race since then. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens, the son of Allen, has expressed some concern that Corinthian doesn't train as well over Saratoga's main track as he does at Belmont.

"When a horse runs that bad, you wonder if they're going to run good again," Jimmy Jerkens said. "It was one thing if he battled inside the eighth pole and was beat five or six lengths, but he was completely dead before they turned for home."

Corinthian, who breaks from post 5, might hold the key to the race from a pace perspective. In the Whitney, Wanderin Boy set the pace pressed by Fairbanks, but Fairbanks is not entered back in here. Wanderin Boy can be a dangerous commodity when able to get things his own way.

"I think they'll all keep an eye on Wanderin Boy," trainer Nick Zito said. "They can't outrun him; if they do, they'll lose their position."

Wanderin Boy's stablemate Sun King looks to bounce back off a 10th-place finish in the Whitney. Zito said the horse got hit in the eye by a clod of dirt early in the race.

"I wouldn't want to run if I got hit in the eye," Zito said.

Zito noted that Sun King won the 2006 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup after finishing last in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Diamond Stripes, third in the Whitney and Stephen Foster, and Brass Hat, eighth in the Whitney, complete the field.