02/27/2006 1:00AM

Rebel will be next stop for Lawyer Ron

Sunny Taylor / Coady Photography
Heavy favorite Lawyer Ron (right) staves off a late run by Steppenwolfer.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Lawyer Ron's three-quarter-length victory in the $250,000 on Saturday at Oaklawn might have been the smallest win margin of his five career victories, but the manner in which he won said a lot about the colt, who is a leading candidate for the Kentucky Derby.

"It showed if someone challenged him, he had enough courage to go on," said Bob Holthus, who trains Lawyer Ron for the estate of James T. Hines Jr.

Lawyer Ron had won three straight races by a combined 27 1/2 lengths heading into the Southwest. In the one-mile race on Saturday, he dictated the pace from off the rail, then showed grit to hold off Steppenwolfer. Lawyer Ron ran the distance in 1:40 over a tiring track, and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 95. He was ridden by John McKee.

"The race was not a typical race for him," said Holthus. "We decided to try and outrun them in the first turn. We didn't want to get shuffled back and give him a lot to overcome."

Lawyer Ron had raced just off the pace in some of his prior races, including the Grade 3, $250,000 Risen Star, which he won by 8 1/4 lengths. That race was almost six weeks ago, and Lawyer Ron was a fresh horse heading into the Southwest. The race had been delayed five days after a winter storm forced its initial cancellation Feb. 20. The storm also led to the loss of three days of training.

"That was the first time in his last three races that he came back and was blowing," Holthus said of the Southwest. "He got something out of that race. He probably needed something like that, because races keep getting tougher."

Holthus said Lawyer Ron will now be pointed for the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel at 1 1/16 miles on March 18 at Oaklawn, where he is expected to meet a number of shippers. Holthus said the colt came out of Southwest in good order, and will likely go back to the track Wednesday or Thursday.

"We walked him this morning and he just bounced around the barn," Holthus said on Sunday. "He's an amazing horse. You know, for not being a big horse, he's a tough little dude."

That is precisely what Lawyer Ron showed Saturday.

Rebel next for Steppenwolfer

Trainer Dan Peitz has come full circle at Oaklawn. A native of Arkansas, he began his racing career as a hotwalker at the track - in the same barn from which he now trains Kentucky Derby candidate Steppenwolfer. In recent years, Peitz had been wintering at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, which last year was hit by Hurricane Katrina.

"I started right here in this barn, in 1977 with Paul Adwell," Peitz said on Sunday. "He had one of [announcer] Terry Wallace's all-time favorites at the time, Romeo."

These days, Peitz is enjoying the rapid development of Steppenwolfer, who closed from ninth to finish second to wire-to-wire winner Lawyer Ron in the Southwest.

"I was just hoping . . . we would have more of a speed duel develop, and it really never did," Peitz said. "It was a pretty long run he had to try to make to try to win the race. To try to make a five-eighths-mile run, that's kind of tough to do, and we definitely lost more ground than we lost by. Lawyer Ron was in the one- or two-path, and we were in the four- or five-path around the turn.

"I think we took another step forward," he said. "We know we'll have some new shooters in the Rebel. The mountain gets a little steeper with every race."

Steppenwolfer is 3 for 5 on dirt, and he made his stakes debut in the Southwest.

Options for Red Raymond

Holthus also saddled third-place finisher Red Raymond in the Southwest. He said the colt, who is a stakes winner, could start next in either the Rebel or the Grade 2, $500,000 Lane's End at Turfway Park on March 25.

Music School finished fourth in the Southwest, and trainer Neil Howard said he and the colt's owners will discuss next-race options in the next few days.

Travelin Leroy, who was prominent early and finished ninth in the Southwest, was found to have a lung infection, said his trainer, Gammy Vazquez. He will be treated this week, then scoped again, and a decision about the Rebel will follow.

* The $7,699,232 that Oaklawn handled on its 11-race Southwest card is a record handle for a February program, said track spokesman Terry Wallace. Attendance ontrack Saturday was 22,249.

* There is a $16,819 pick-six carryover for Wednesday's card.