Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez, absolute gold at Saratoga the past three years but off to a slow start at the new meet this week, teamed to win Saratoga's signature race for older handicap horses. Lawyer Ron came roaring off the turn and ran the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:46 3/5, taking two-fifths off the track mark set by Tri Jet in 1974 and matched by Left Bank in 2002. He won by 4 3/4 lengths over the front-running Wanderin Boy.
"To have a horse win it the way he did makes it extra special," said Pletcher, who saddled three horses in the race.
On a hot, steamy day before 29,216 at The Spa, Lawyer Ron went over the $2 million mark in earnings and earned a return trip to the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) Oct. 27 with the victory as part of the "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge at Saratoga.
The fear for Pletcher was that Lawyer Ron, who likes to be forwardly placed in stalking position, would get stuck extremely wide heading into the close first turn from his 11 post. But Lawyer Ron, a 4-year-old son of Langfuhr , tucked in nicely just three paths off the fence on the clubhouse turn as Wanderin Boy, along the inside, and Fairbanks set the pace. Under a snug hold, Lawyer Ron held his spot through early fractions of :23 4/5 and :47 1/5 before rolling up to the leaders rounding the final turn. Lawyer Ron took the lead from a stubborn Wanderin Boy mid-stretch and drew off late with no dangers.
When the field hit the quarter pole, Velazquez said he made his move.
"As soon as I got after him, he drew away from there," Velazquez said. "I took a peek to look for Magna Graduate because I thought he was the horse to beat. I didn't see him, but my horse was already gone; so I didn't even stop his momentum. At that point, I just sat and rode him."
Wanderin Boy, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, held second at odds of 29-1 after opening up a clear lead on the turn when Fairbanks dropped back. Diamond Stripes, ridden by Edgar Prado, moved into contention coming off the turn but had to settle for third.
Pletcher also trains the lukewarm 4-1 Whitney choice, Magna Graduate, who was never a factor while racing along the inside and finishing sixth.
Lawyer Ron won the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) in April, but had been defeated at short odds in his last two starts -- a third in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont when he caught a red-hot Corinthian and a second in the Salvator Mile Handicap (gr. III) at Monmouth Park one month ago. Pletcher felt there were excuses for both.
"He's been kind of unlucky not to win his last two starts," he said. "He was unlucky in the Met Mile and drew the one-hole going a mile. He was stuck down inside. At Monmouth, the track was just so crazy speed-biased, but he ran a great race."
Lawyer Ron won both the Rebel (gr. II) and Arkansas Derby (gr. II) on the Triple Crown trail last year for trainer Bob Holthus before ending his season with a ninth-place showing for Pletcher in the Breeders' Cup Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
"He's an easy horse to train because he likes training," Pletcher said. "He's very forward, that's just the way he is. He likes running."
Pletcher said the Woodward Stakes (gr. I) in September could be Lawyer Ron's next start.
"Obviously, we want to go to the Breeders' Cup Classic, and we want to figure out the best way to do it," the trainer said.
Bred by James T. Hines Jr., Lawyer Ron has won 11 of 23 starts with earnings of $2,340,008. Saturday's winning share was $450,000.
He paid $13, $7.70, and $5.30. Wanderin Boy, trained by Nick Zito, returned $25.20 and $14, completing a whopping $388.50 exacta. Diamond Stripes, also third in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) in his most recent start for trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., was $5.30 to show.
Fairbanks, also trained by Pletcher, finished fourth, 1 3/4 lengths behind Diamond Stripes. Then came Dry Martini, Magna Graduate, Flashy Bull, Brass Hat, Papi Chullo, Sun King, and Awesome Twist.