04/12/2006 11:00PM

Lawyer Ron's name may join Smarty, Alex

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex combined to win four of the last six Triple Crown races after dominating performances in the Arkansas Derby. Their successor appears to be Lawyer Ron.

Saturday's Grade 2, $1 million closes out the meet at Oaklawn Park. With a win, Lawyer Ron would enhance his reputation as one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby.

He began building his case more than four months ago, when he won an optional claimer at the Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs on Dec. 9. Lawyer Ron has not lost since, racking up five straight victories by a cumulative 31 lengths heading into the Arkansas Derby.

"The horse thinks he can beat anybody, and that's a good thing to have," said Bob Holthus, who trains Lawyer Ron for the Estate of James T. Hines Jr.

Lawyer Ron would sweep Oaklawn's stakes series for 3-year-olds with a win in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby. He captured the first leg, the $250,000 Southwest on Feb. 25, by wiring the field. In his most recent start, he came from five lengths back - farther than he ever had before - to capture the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel on March 18.

"You run each race in a different way," said Holthus. "The first time we ran here, we felt he could go to the lead and still beat them, which he did. A lot of people, I think, thought that that's the way he had to run. But it's definitely not. You can do about anything you want with him. He's a pretty kind horse."

Lawyer Ron will face 13 rivals on Saturday, and Holthus hopes he can work out a stalking trip. Among those Lawyer Ron figures to be tracking are Simon Pure, High Cotton, Private Vow, and Jealous Profit.

"I'd like to lay third or fourth, three or four lengths off the lead," said Holthus, who has given the mount to John McKee.

Holthus has another starter in Red Raymond, who finished second by three lengths in the Rebel. He will be coming late under Luis Quinonez.

"He'll definitely be closing," said Holthus.

Steppenwolfer also runs late. He is bred to like the added ground of this race as he tries to close the gap on Lawyer Ron. Steppenwolfer finished second to him by three-quarters of a length in the Southwest, and third last out in the Rebel.

"I don't think we're far behind Lawyer Ron," said Dan Peitz, who trains Steppenwolfer. "We lost enough ground in the Rebel on the first turn and were a little wider than him in the second turn to make me think that he wasn't three lengths better than us."

Steppenwolfer will be ridden by Robby Albarado.

Private Vow will be making his second start of the year after finishing seventh, seven lengths behind Lawyer Ron, in the Rebel. The race was his first start since he closed out his 2-year-old season with a win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill in November.

"He has every reason to move forward," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Private Vow. "He got tired, blew hard after the race, and has come back and has trained good."

Shaun Bridgmohan will ride Private Vow.

Chris DeCarlo has the mount on High Cotton, the runner-up to Private Vow in the Kentucky Jockey Club. In his last start, High Cotton won the $100,000 Rushaway at Turfway Park on March 25.

"He has a forward style," said Todd Pletcher, his trainer. "He might not be on the lead, but he'll be close to the pace."

With a City is the lone horse in the field with a win at 1 1/8 miles, accomplished last out in the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End at Turfway on March 25. Trainer Mike Maker has given the mount to Brice Blanc.

The field

Arkansas Derby / Oaklawn
Purse: $1 million; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 2

PPHORSEJOCKEYWT.ODDS
1f-New Joysey JeffJ. Valdivia Jr.11820-1
2SteppenwolferR. Albarado11810-1
3High CottonC. DeCarlo1228-1
4With a CityB. Blanc12215-1
5Lawyer RonJ. McKee1227-5
6Well SaidJ. Graham11820-1
7Jealous ProfitA. Gryder11810-1
8Private VowS. Bridgmohan1225-1
9Red RaymondL. Quinonez12212-1
10Simon PureJ. Court11820-1
11f- Nob Hill DeeliteC. Lanerie12220-1
12SuperflyW. Martinez12215-1
13f-Film FortuneT. Thompson11820-1
14SayhellotolarryC. Borel11810-1

* f-Mutuel field
* Blinkers on: New Joysey Jeff
* Track morning line odds
* Television: Saturday, 5-6 p.m. (Eastern), ABC