09/26/2006 12:00AM

Super Derby's top pair consider BC Classic


BOSSIER CITY, La. - Strong Contender ran perhaps the best race of his career last Saturday in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, giving his connections a reason to consider a start in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4.

And that is what they are doing right now, thinking about it, John Ward Jr., who trains Strong Contender for John Oxley, said Tuesday.

"We have had our performance and we're like the guy on the golf tournament that is in the clubhouse with his good score and he's kind of watching everybody else come home," he said. "And that's what we're kind of doing. We're watching closely. We'll just kind of see what happens."

Strong Contender earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 107 for his win in the Super Derby, the second-highest number of his career behind a 109 for his Grade 2 Dwyer win at Belmont Park. Ward was impressed with Strong Contender's stretch run on Saturday, when in the final sixteenth he rallied for a one-length win over Lawyer Ron.

Ward noted that Strong Contender ran head to head with Costa Rising, put him away, and finally looked up and tuned in on Lawyer Ron. "And when he did," Ward said, "he immediately accelerated to that horse. That seven strides he put in to get to the other horse, I thought was very brilliant."

Strong Contender flew to Kentucky on Sunday, and was scheduled to van from Lexington back to his Belmont base on Tuesday night.

According to Ward, the list of Breeder's Cup horses running well at Churchill Downs after training at Belmont "is pretty significant."

Plans pending for Lawyer Ron

Lawyer Ron flew back to Churchill on Sunday. Trainer Bob Holthus said plans for the colt are still being determined, with a start in the Breeders' Cup not being ruled out as of Monday.

"I would say right now, we're not going to make any decisions for a couple of weeks," Holthus said. "We'll just play it by ear. We haven't picked out a next race for him yet."

Lawyer Ron earned the second-best Beyer of his career, a 105, for his Super Derby. He broke sharply and was between rivals going into the first turn. He darted to the lead soon afterward, running the opening six furlongs in 1:10.85, and the mile in 1:35.51.

"He was just too rank the first part of it," said Holthus. "He just didn't want to relax. He's done that a time or two before."

Lawyer Ron's best Beyer, a 106, came in the Grade 3 Risen Star in January.

Record handle for Louisiana Downs

The $7,306,487 that Louisiana Downs handled on its 13-race card Saturday was a record for the track, said Mark Midland, vice president of racing operations. The old mark of $6.7 million was set on Super Derby Day in 2003.

Louisiana Downs sent the signal of its sixth through 11th races into California, and the move yielded $533,338 in handle. Handle was also strong ontrack, with the large crowd wagering $893,645 on the live races, the highest ontrack handle here since Super Derby Day in 2000.

"Obviously we're thrilled with the way everything turned out," said Midland. "To be able to have the all-time record handle is just outstanding. So, it kind of raises the bar for next year."

Louisiana Downs surrounded the Super Derby with four rich turf stakes this year, making the card worth more than $1 million. The concept will return next year, said Midland.

"We feel like the day built a tremendous amount of momentum for us, and by grouping the stakes it helped to bring horses and planes in from around the country," he said. "So, that's something that we'll look to duplicate, most definitely."

Attendance is free at the track, so there was no crowd figure released for Saturday. But the house was packed, with patrons standing at least 20 deep around the paddock area when the horses arrived for the Super Derby.

"When I went to college at Louisiana Tech, we used to come here in the glory days in the 80's, and this is the best I've seen it in over 20 years," said Sean Alfortish, president of the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

o Zarb's Dahar, a multiple stakes-winning sprinter, will make a rare start around two turns and on turf Thursday in the third race. The 7 1/2-furlong optional claimer also drew Cajole and Silver Haze.

Zarb's Dahar goes here because no other race was available, said his trainer, James Hodges. A winner at six furlongs last out, he should handle the added distance, said Hodges.

"I don't think it will be a problem for him," he said.