Lawyer Ron, running a week later than expected and only the day after the funeral of his late owner, led from gate to wire in winning Saturday's $250,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park and continued on pace for Kentucky Derby consideration.
The Southwest Stakes, originally scheduled for Presidents Day last Monday, was postponed because of bad weather in central Arkansas. Lawyer Ron's owner and breeder, James T. Hines Jr., 69, was found dead last Tuesday -- an apparent accidental drowning victim -- in the swimming pool of his Kentucky home.
Lawyer Ron, a Kentucky-bred son of Langfuhr, has won four straight races on the main track. Trainer Bob Holthus had the colt running primarily on the grass until he won an "off-turf" optional claimer at Louisiana Downs by 10 3/4 lengths early in December. Since then, he has met every challenge.
Saturday, the main rival was Steppenwolfer, a gray son of Aptitude, who was coming off an allowance win with an impressive Beyer Speed Figure. Racing from well back in the field, as usual, Steppenwolfer got close to Lawyer Ron in the stretch but couldn't get past him, missing by 3/4 length. Red Raymond was well back in third.
"We wanted to get away from the field if we possibly could," Holthus told Daily Racing Form, "and pick the part of the race track we wanted to be in."
Lawyer Ron and Steppenwolfer both are likely to remain in Hot Springs to face the starter in the $300,000 Rebel -- final local prep for the Arkansas Derby.
In other races with potential Kentucky Derby implications:
-- The favorites bombed in Sunday's $100,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland Park in slots-enriched New Mexico. Taking advantage was previously winless California invader Indy Wildcat, who won a three-horse charge to the wire, finishing a head in front of Wait in Line. Disappearing Trick was third. The favorite, Doctor Dechard, was eighth and second-favorite Plagerist was ninth after a nightmarish start. Indy Wildcat, a Kentucky-bred son of A.P. Indy, traveled the 1 1/16 mile in 1:44.82. He was coming off a third-place finish in a maiden race at Santa Anita for trainer Paula Capestro. Capestro said the colt wants more distance and probably will be back for the WinStar Derby on April Fools Day.
-- Strong Contender still needs to work his way into contention as Thursday's allowance start was only his second start. Still, he passed that test, winning by 4 3/4 lengths and finishing in 1:34.67. The Maria's Mon colt, an $800,000 purchase at Keeneland, won his first start late last summer at Arlington by 3 3/4 lengths. "We've never really got to the bottom of this horse," said winning trainer John Ward. "We've never really wanted to. But we were anxious to see what our hole card was and it turned out to be an ace. We have three to four weeks to decide what's next." Edgar Prado applied the winning ride.
Races with potential implications for the Kentucky Oaks:
-- Classical Ryder dallied near the back of the pack in Saturday's $50,000 Valdale Stakes at Turfway Park, got going for jockey Eddie Martin Jr. midway through the 1-mile event and was up in time to win by 1 length over Anna Dana. Grand Consequence was third. The favorite, Delicate Dynamite, finished eighth. Classical Ryder, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Brahms, finished in 1:41.47 on the all-weather track. "Every race she runs, she runs from way back there," said winning trainer Donald Hughes Sr. "I wasn't worried at all." He said he will consider the Bourbonette Breeders' Cup on next month's Lane's End Stakes day for the filly's next race.
-- Brownie Points scored a minor upset in Friday's rescheduled Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Coming from near the back of the field, jockey Luis Quinonez wove through traffic to find running room in the stretch for the Forest Wildcat filly, who responded to win by 2 3/4 lengths after finding daylight. Sweet Sugaree was second, also at double-digit odds, and Kat Nan Do was third. The favorite, Rich Fantasy, weakened to finish sixth. Brownie Points ran the 1 mile in 1:39.69.
-- Regal Engagement rallied outside rivals through deep stretch to win Sunday's $65,000 Busher Stakes at Aqueduct by a neck over Trendy Lady. The favorite, Daytime Promise, came from far back, was steadied during the stretch run and finished third, another 1 1/2 length in arrears. Regal Engagement, a Kentucky-bred filly by Cat Thief, ran the 1 1/16 mile in 1:47.15 with Ramon Dominguez aboard.
In other weekend racing:
Super Kid was victorious in a tight, three-way decision in Sunday's Hong Kong Gold Cup, besting Bullish Luck by a head with Bowman's Crossing just a nose farther back in third. The favorite, Russian Pearl, did not fire and was never a factor in the outcome. Super Kid, with Shane Dye up, got the perfect run. "At the half-mile mark," Dye said, "I edged him out a little wider to let him stride into the race and when set down in the straight, he was able to fight off the other two with great courage." Noting his mount was a bit short in his last effort over the track in the Hong Kong Vase last December, Dye said the course was harder that day. "But today he felt great and I had a beautiful run," he said. "He still has the same flowing action. He's really flying and there's no reason why he can't go on and achieve more this season." The "more" could include the Audemars Piguet QEII Cup on April 23 and/or the Hong Kong Champions & Chater Cup the following month.
The outcome is less bullish -- but still up in the air -- for Hong Kong sensation Silent Witness. The local favorite and one-time win machine finished seventh behind winner Scintillation at Sha Tin Race Course on Sunday in the Centenary Spring Cup -- first leg of the Champion Sprint Series that he swept the past two seasons. Scintillation beat Natural Blitz by 1/2 length. Natural Blitz won the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint last December -- a race Silent Witness skipped. Owner Archie Da Silva said Silent Witness has "nothing in the pipeline yet" as to a next start. But trainer Tony Cruz said, "We will have to keep on going. He's a big, gross horse and needs more racing."
It didn't take a genius to figure out what to do in Saturday's $250,000 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Turf. Einstein jumped to the lead and, although jockey Rafael Bejarano hadn't exactly planned to lead the way, "when he got there, he was really running comfortably. So I let him go on." The favorite, Gun Salute, got alongside Einstein on the backstretch but when Bejarano gave him a little rein, Einstein "gave me everything I wanted the rest of the way." At the end of the 1 7/16 mile, the 4-year-old, Brazilian-bred colt was still in first, a neck better than Go Deputy. Gun Salute held on for third. The final time for the marathon was 2:23.91 over a "yielding" surface. "He's been invited to the UAE Derby," said winning trainer Helen Pitts. "Dubai is hard on a horse, but it's a great opportunity to consider." As a southern hemisphere foal, Einstein is still eligible for the UAE Derby.
Tampa Bay Downs
Fort Prado, the favorite, got off to his usual tardy start in Saturday's $125,000 Tampa Bay Breeders' Cup Stakes, moved up through traffic nearing the stretch and got clear in time to win by 2 lengths over Icy Atlantic. Interpatation was third. Fort Prado, a 5-year-old, Illinois-bred Team Block homebred by El Prado, finished the 1 1/16 mile in 1:40.76 under Brice Blanc. "He had an awkward beginning," said winning trainer Chris Block. "I was worried up the backstretch. I think on this track, you have to be in the first flight, so I was concerned when he wasn't there." Blanc said in the stretch, the horse "saw daylight and just exploded, eating up the field." In his last start, Ford Prado won the Fair Grounds Handicap at Louisiana Downs. Block said the next stop will be at Sam Houston.
Atlando, the odds-on favorite, saved ground through the early furlongs of Sunday's $150,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap, came out for room turning for home and did what he had to do, winning by 3/4 length over T.H. Approval. King's Drama was third. Atlando, an Irish-bred son of Hernando, ran the 1 1/2 mile in 2:23.95 with Martin Pedroza aboard. Winning trainer Darrell Vienna said, "It was a beautiful ride," adding he told Pedroza, "Wherever he sits, he's got to relax to get a mile and a half and he got him perfectly relaxed. He saved ground and then came around horses with a fresh horse."
Behaving Badly behaved perfectly for jockey Victor Espinoza and trainer Bob Baffert in Saturday's $100,000 Las Flores Handicap for fillies and mares. Breaking sharply, the 5-year-old, New York-bred daughter of Pioneering fought for the lead, then worked clear to win by 4 3/4 lengths over Awesome Lady. Spirit to Spare was third. The 6 furlongs took 1:09.09 on a fast track. "We like to win like that," Baffert said. "She's extremely fast and they usually are when they're built like that. She runs like she looks." He suggested the Humana Distaff on Derby Day at Churchill Downs might be a logical next step for the mare.
Also Saturday, Moscow Burning came from off the pace to win the $100,000 Pro Or Con Handicap for state-bred fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over Alphabet Kisses, with Unusual Spring third. Moscow Burning, a 6-year-old mare by Moscow Ballet, ran 1 mile on firm turf in 1:33.40 for jockey David Flores. "There are still some more Cal-bred races to be won," said winning trainer James Cassidy. "But you couldn't get much tougher than this race today if you look at the fractions. So maybe she should be in a graded race."
Sticky put in a late bid to win Saturday's $85,000 Maryland Racing Media Handicap for fillies and mares, beating stablemate Dynamic Deputy by 1/2 length. Sticky, a 4-year-old Concern filly coming off a 3-month layoff, ran the 9 furlongs in 1:54.09 under Jozbin Santana. "At the half-mile pole, I thought she didn't show up off the layoff," said Santana. "But as soon as those horses went by me, she took a hold of the bit again and went on from there."
Only four distaffers answered the starter's call in Saturday's $65,000 Rare Treat Handicap and Bohemian Lady stood out. After tracking the pace, the 5-year-old Carson City mare took over, opening a huge lead and coasting home first by 8 3/4 length. India Halo, Game Card and Amazing Buy completed the order of finish. Bohemian Lady, with Jose Santos up for trainer Todd Pletcher, ran the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.08.
Urban Guy rallied to the lead leaving the turn in Saturday's $50,000 Mountain Valley Stakes for 3-year-olds, then widened his advantage through the stretch, winning off by 5 3/4 lengths over Fidrych. Catonight was third. Urban Guy, a Kentucky-bred son of Marquetry, ran 6 furlongs in 1:12.04 with Robby Albarado up.
College Graduate rallied between horses in the stretch in Saturday's $40,000 Coyote Handicap and won a spirited sprint to the line, beating Cocoa Latte by 3/4 length. Raging Wind finished third. College Graduate, a 4-year-old, California-bred colt by Bold Badgett, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.27 under Joel Campbell.