08/16/2006 12:00AM

Lawyer Ron to prep in St. Louis Derby

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Lawyer Ron, winner of the Arkansas Derby, heads the list of nominees for the $250,000 St. Louis Derby, a 1 1/16-mile race at Fairmount Park on Aug. 26. Lawyer Ron is likely to start, as his trainer, Bob Holthus, hopes to use the St. Louis Derby as a stepping-stone to next month's Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, and then take a shot at the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

Other prominent nominees to the St. Louis Derby, which closed Tuesday, include the Blue Grass Stakes runner-up Storm Treasure, the Iowa Derby winner More Than Regal, and the Round Table Stakes winner Casino Evil. Lewis Michael, the Wayne Catalano trainee who finished a close second in the Peter Pan at Belmont in May, was also nominated, but his connections are leaning toward the King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga the same day.

* Some of the better older horses based at Fairmount faced off in the $15,680 Jovial John Handicap at a mile and 70 yards last Saturday. Dollar Diplomacy ($10.80) pulled off a minor upset, winning a three-way photo over Stormy o' Bryan and Matched. Mr. Mink, the 7-5 favorite, held a lead of 10 lengths down the backstretch but faded to last in the seven-horse field.

* Trainer Mike Durham enjoyed a terrific evening last Friday, winning three races on the 10-race card. His winners were Bailer Twine ($8.60), Double Banner ($19.60), and Pretty Way ($16.80).

Columbus

Thundering Verzy ran his record to 5 for 5 over the Columbus oval when he drew off for a 3 3/4-length win in Saturday's $18,150 Amadevil Stakes for his first win of the year.

For Thundering Verzy, a 5-year-old trained by Dan Coughlin for owner Craig Wulf, it was his eighth stakes race, four of which have come here at Columbus. As a 2-year-old he won a maiden race at first asking at Columbus, then took both the Club House Special and Columbus Futurity to close out his juvenile season. His only other start at Columbus came in 2004, when he was a four-length winner of the Labor Day Handicap. He now sports a career record of 10-4-5 from 31 starts and more than $127,000 in earnings.

His Amadevil win came at the expense of 11-year-old High Dice, who rallied to gain second in the six-furlong race for Nebraska-breds. Thundering Verzy returned $11.80 as the third choice in the field of six with Yuri Yaranga aboard.

* Jockey Dennis Collins had a strong weekend with a four-win day on Friday and a triple on Sunday. He trails R. D. Williams in the rider standings by a 19-17 margin. Williams, Yaranga, and Jerry Carkeek each posted triples on Saturday as the trio accounted for all nine races on the card.

* Columbus will shift to a Friday-through-Monday racing schedule from this weekend through through Labor Day.

- Bill Hodtwalker

River Downs

Surrounded by friends and family in a surprise gathering between races Sunday at River Downs, jockey Jeff Johnston was given a heartfelt good-bye on his last day as a professional jockey. Johnston, 36, retired at the end of Sunday's program to become the treasurer and Midwest regional manager of the Jockeys' Guild.

A native of Iowa, Johnston began his career riding Quarter Horses at Queen City Downs in Hastings, Neb., and rode his first Thoroughbred winner at Prairie Meadows during the track's inaugural meet in 1989. Johnston ended his career with 1,406 Thoroughbred wins and mount earnings of more than $15 million.

While pursuing his riding career, Johnston earned a bachelor's degree in business from the University of Louisville in 1992. It was there that he met his wife, JoLynn, a fellow student in the school's Equine Industry Program. She later became director of marketing at River Downs.

Johnston has been riding primarily on the Ohio and Kentucky circuits for more than a decade, and he enjoyed much of his success at River Downs, where he won such major stakes as the Bassinet and the Governor's Buckeye Cup. Johnston has also been a high-profile member of the Jockeys' Guild over the past few years.

"My main goal at the guild is to make sure all jockeys know how important the guild is," Johnston said. "My other goal is to convince the racetracks and trainers how important the guild is."

Johnston said trading his silks in for a suit is something he is content with. "I'll miss riding the big races and the good horses, but not the day-to-day grind," he said.

* Favorites captured both of last weekend's allowance preps for the meet's biggest races, the Cradle Stakes and Bassinet Stakes. In the $29,200 Cradle prep, the Ken McPeek-trained Loose Leaf drew off to win by 5 1/2 lengths. The $25,000 Bassinet prep went to Devil House, a Chester House filly trained by Terry Gestes. Devil House won by 8 1/4 lengths.

- Vance Hanson

Oaklawn Park

An upset win by Kon Krete Kid ($95) last Sunday at Saratoga helped lift handicapper Les Harris to victory in the Oaklawn Park qualifying tournament for the Daily Racing Form/National Thoroughbred Racing Association National Handicapping Championship.

Harris beat out 162 participants and won the first-place prize of $12,000. He will lead a team of three from Oaklawn in the championships in Las Vegas in January.

Harris, from the north Texas town of Keller, won the competition with a bankroll total of $374.50. The runner-up was Ken Arthur, with a total of $328.40. The the third-place finisher was James Gedding, with a total of $300.90.

The tournament, which was held last Saturday and Sunday, was the first qualifier Oaklawn has ever held for the DRF/NTRA Handicapping Championship.

- Mary Rampellini