03/22/2006 1:00AM

Seeing isn't necessarily believing

Jack Coady/Coady Photography
Lawyer Ron's 92 Beyer in the Rebel was subpar.

PHILADELPHIA - As Lawyer Ron started to cruise by horses on the backstretch of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park last Saturday, I said to myself, "There is my Derby horse." Lawyer Ron, who had never lost on the dirt (unless you want to count Turfway's Polytrack as dirt), was showing another dimension, sitting off the pace and unleashing a powerful move, the kind of move that wins races large and small, blowing by horses like they were not there while running far off the rail.

Unless something happened in the stretch to change my opinion, this was going to be it. Lawyer Ron kept on running in the stretch and blew away the field.

Private Vow, a very good 2-year-old, simply could not keep up on the far turn. Steppenwolfer, a late-running second by less than a length to Lawyer Ron in the Southwest Stakes, was third, more than three lengths behind.

This was the one. I was sure of it.

My certainty ended in less than 24 hours.

One of the hardest lessons in this game is to learn not to believe everything you see, even if it's exactly what you are looking for. What you see and the reality may, in fact, be quite a bit different.

Lawyer Ron's reality was a 92 Beyer. I am still looking for my Derby horse.

This was a lesson I learned in 1992. Remember Arazi, the horse that was going to make us forget Secretariat, Citation, and every other horse that ever lived? The lasting impression of Arazi was that move in the 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. It was chilling. It was also a "no fig." No matter what we saw, Arazi simply was not that fast.

And that one race in France before the 1992 Derby wasn't going to make him any faster. All Derby week, I wrote that Arazi was a fraud. The Beyers simply do not lie. They can deceive on occasion, but they don't lie, especially when they are pointing out that an odds-on favorite may very well get nothing.

The last I saw of Arazi at Churchill, after he made another big move in the Derby, was the colt fading out of contention.

All that said, I haven't given up on Lawyer Ron, not by any means. But 92 is 92, no matter how it looked on the track. And 92 is not going to win the Derby.

The key to understanding the true value of the Rebel was actually Red Raymond, who finished second. Red Raymond was four lengths behind Lawyer Ron in Southwest and three lengths back in the Rebel. The colt got an 88 in the Southwest, an 87 in the Rebel.

If the 92 were Lawyer Ron's career top, I really would forget what I saw. Here is the problem. Lawyer Ron got a 106 when he won the Risen Star. He got a 92 and 97 in December. He got a 95 when he won the Southwest.

Thus, there are mixed signals. If a horse gets a Beyer that is not a complete aberration, that horse can do it again. And the 106 is not so much better than the norm that it should be considered an aberration. It was an indication of the depth of the colt's talent.

The Arkansas Derby will provide the next and last racing clue about Lawyer Ron and the Derby. If the colt gets up in the 106 Beyer range again and looks good doing it, I will have found my Derby horse for the second time, even if it's the same horse.

If, however, Lawyer Ron's Beyer stays in the mid-90 range, I am prepared to discard what my eyes see and go with what my brain knows. No matter what you think, the fundamentals never change. The best races, where form tends to hold more than in the everyday fare, are won by the fastest horses, not horses that look fast.

Everything you experience in this sport should be filed away in your memory. There will come a time when the past becomes the present.

If you do that, you will be able to tell your friends when the next over-hyped young horse runs up the track that the horse was "just another Arazi."