02/15/2006 1:00AM

Lawyer Ron ready to state his case

Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Lawyer Ron, working at Oaklawn with John McKee, is at this point in his career the best 3-year-old Bob Holthus has trained.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Trainer Bob Holthus has developed some good 3-year-olds in his more than 52 years of racing at Oaklawn Park, among them Proper Reality and Greater Good. This year, he has one of the country's best 3-year-olds in Lawyer Ron, who on Monday will bid to give Holthus his fifth win in the Southwest Stakes.

Boosted in value from $100,000 to $250,000 this year, the one-mile Southwest is the first step on the road to the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Holthus won the 1988 Arkansas Derby with Proper Reality, who went on to win the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and $1.7 million. Greater Good won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at 2, then last year captured both the Southwest and Grade 3 Rebel at Oaklawn.

As for Lawyer Ron, he comes into this year's Southwest off an 8 1/4-length win in the Grade 3, $250,000 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs on Jan. 14. With the win, the colt remained unbeaten on dirt, and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 106.

"He's probably, at this point in his career, the best 3-year-old I've had," said Holthus, 71.

has won his last three starts by a combined 27 1/2 lengths. In the Risen Star, he was prominent throughout and then drew off, covering 1 1/16 miles in a sharp 1:43. It was another eye-catching performance from a colt who is respected by horsemen, including trainer Dan Peitz, who will start the promising Steppenwolfer in the Southwest.

"So far, from what I can see, he really hasn't done anything wrong on dirt," Peitz said of Lawyer Ron. "He's got qualities those good horses have. He's got speed and he can carry it."

Lawyer Ron's journey to the top of his division has been an interesting one. Like Spend a Buck, winner of the 1985 Kentucky Derby, he was born and raised in western Kentucky, which is nearly 200 miles removed from the hub of the state's breeding industry in Lexington. Lawyer Ron, a winner of four races and $290,008, grew up on the farm of his owner, James T. Hines Jr., who has a tool and die factory in Owensboro, Ky.

"He was raised in Daviess County," said Hines. "He's won the most money of anything I've bred. I've got great hopes for him."

The best horse Hines has raced is Ruby Surprise, whom he bought at auction. A Grade 2 winner of $752,697, she was trained by Holthus. Hines said he has about 35 to 40 mares. When one of them, the Lord Avie daughter Donation, was bred to Metropolitan Handicap winner Langfuhr, the result was Lawyer Ron.

Langfuhr is the sire of Wando, the 2003 Canadian Triple Crown winner who raced on both turf and dirt. Lawyer Ron made his career debut on the grass, and finished third in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race at Hines's hometrack, Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky., on July 24.

"At that time, I probably had eight or 10 2-year-old maidens ready to run, and with his breeding, we tried him on the turf," said Holthus.

After two more starts on grass at Ellis and two additional starts on the Polytrack surface at Turfway Park, Lawyer Ron won his maiden in a seven-furlong dirt race at Keeneland.

"We took him to Churchill Downs after that and actually ran him in a couple more turf races because he'd always run decent [on the grass]," said Holthus. "And then when we went to Shreveport, and they took his race off the turf and he won by so far, why we finally realized that's where we ought to keep him."

Lawyer Ron won that race, an entry-level allowance, by 10 3/4 lengths. He was an 8 1/2-length winner of the $100,000 Diamond Jo Mile at Evangeline Downs on Dec. 31, defeating a field that included stakes winners Desert Wheat and Premier Dance.

From there, Lawyer Ron made his graded-stakes debut, and romped in the Risen Star, a performance that earned him horse of the meet honors.

Lawyer Ron has made 11 starts, more than is typical of today's young horses. But it is a regimen that Lawyer Ron is thriving on, said Holthus.

"It's a myth that became popular the last 10 years, that a horse can only run once a month, or once every five weeks," said Holthus. "But it's all right to work them 10 or 15 times. That's where you break most of them down.

"He always feels good," Holthus said of Lawyer Ron. "I've never seen him have a down day. Even the next day after he runs, he's a handful to walk. He's a kind horse to train and he's sound, and that's two of the best things you can have with a young horse."

One of the best things a young horse can have is an experienced trainer like Bob Holthus. Heading into the Southwest, Lawyer Ron, Holthus, and Hines are poised to become the latest 3-year-old success story out of Oaklawn.