There will be a good deal of emotion surrounding Saturday's $250,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park, as Lawyer Ron tries to extend his impressive three-race winning streak following the death his owner, James T. Hines Jr., who died in a swimming pool accident at his home earlier in the week.
There's simply no way of knowing just how good this horse is. The Lawyer Ron
who went winless in seven races last year from July to December bears no resemblance to the Lawyer Ron who has crushed his opponents in his last three races – by 10 3/4, 81/2, and 8 1/4 lengths. The last came in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. III), run this year at Louisiana Downs, in which he turned in a spectacular effort, drawing off with ease to defeat the promising Mark of Success and the steady Hyte Regency, who was coming off an excellent third behind Private Vow in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II).
If he runs anything close to that race in the Southwest, he shouldn't be beaten. But if there any chink in his armor, there are several horses who can pull off the upset. The buzz horse in the field is the Neil Howard-trained Music School
, who is undefeated in two starts, and has shown things in those two races that many veteran campaigners haven't shown. The son of A.P. Indy
looks to be the consummate pro, and has already overcome a near-disastrous stumble just a few steps out of the gate in his debut last year; a gut-wrenching stretch battle in the same race, in which he held on tenaciously and refused to be beaten; and finally an eight-month layoff due to an injury, and stretching out from 5 1/2 furlongs to a mile in his 3-year-old debut.
Howard would have preferred running him in an allowance race on Thursday, but the race didn't fill, forcing Howard to opt for the Southwest. Always a realist, he knows it's asking a lot of the colt to defeat these kind of horses right now, and he'd be thrilled with a good second or third to set him up for the March 18 Rebel Stakes (gr. III). There is no doubt that this is a gifted horse, and if he can beat this kind of competition on Saturday or in the Rebel, you can count on him being one of the favorites on the first Saturday in May.
Music School has shown good speed in his first two races, but he'll have to curtail it on Saturday with the presence of Travelin Leroy, Mark of Success
, and Sharp Attack
among the 10 horses entered. There is also Celluloid Hero
, who is coming off a victory in the 5 1/2-furlong Dixieland Stakes and will be breaking from the outside post.
Travelin Leroy looked like he could be any kind last year, breaking his maiden by 8 3/4 lengths in :57 flat at Belmont, but has since been beaten as the odds-on favorite in a pair of two-turn races at Delaware Park and Laurel. He is one you don't want to get loose on the lead.
With all this speed, and with Lawyer Ron always on or near the pace, the race could set up perfectly for Steppenwolfer
, a son of Aptitude
who keeps improving with every race and looks ready to stamp himself as a legitimate Derby contender. Trained by Dan Peitz, he defeated the talented Jazil in his maiden victory at Aqueduct last November. He was victimized by speed-favoring track at Louisiana Downs next time out, finishing third in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race before turning in an explosive late run to win an allowance race in the final strides.
Sent to Oaklawn, he was last throughout in a one-mile allowance race and sat patiently around the far turn waiting for clear sailing. Once Robby Albarado steered him to the outside, he charged by the entire field in a few strides, sticking head in front turning for home. He continued to pour it on, drawing off to win by 4 1/2 lengths.
Peitz, like Howard, realizes he may be at a disadvantage going against Lawyer Ron at a mile, and would be happy with a fast-closing second or third. But he just may good enough right now to beat them all. Even if he doesn't and is running strongly at the end, watch out for this colt in the upcoming races. He's inbred to Buckpasser and has plenty of stamina top and bottom. And he's already shown a quick, powerful burst of speed and the ability to use it late or early.
Earlier on the card, an interesting horse to watch in the 6-furlong Mountain Valley Stakes is the John Servis-trained Fidrych
, who is coming off a good third in the Dixieland, which followed a 12 1/2-length romp in a Meadowlands allowance race. The son of Grand Slam
will face 10 opponents in the Mountain Valley and will have the services of Stewart Elliott.
Trying to rebound off a poor performance against Steppenwolfer will be Mr. Pinstripe
, who was fourth in the Iroquois (gr. III) and Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) last year.
The Southwest, the first leg of Oaklawn's stakes series for 3-year-olds, will be followed by the $300,000 Rebel (gr. III) on March 18, and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. II) on April 15.
At Santa Anita on Saturday, a one-mile allowance race finally filled after three failed attempts. Heading the field of five are Refinery
, trained by Dick Mandella, and the Bob Baffert-trained Record
. The latter is coming off a fast-run maiden score, which followed a second-place finish to the promising Bobby Frankel colt Racketeer. If Refinery improves with the addition of blinkers off his third-place finish behind One Union and Point Determined he will be one to keep an eye on, especially with his stamina-oriented pedigree. Another promising colt in the field is New Joysey Jeff
, who is coming off a fast-closing second in the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II). He also should get better as the distances stretch out.$250,000 Southwest Stakes (Race 10, 5:15 p.m.), 3-year-olds, 1 mile
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Mark of Success (KY), 117, Calvin H. Borel
2. Agrapha (TX), 115, James Graham
3. Lawyer Ron (KY), 122, John McKee
4. Travelin Leroy (MD), 115, Carlos H. Marquez, Jr.
5. Music School (KY), 115, Robby Albarado
6. Sharp Attack (KY), 115, John Jacinto
7. Steppenwolfer (KY), 117, Corey J. Lanerie
8. Kingsfield (KY), 122, Terry J. Thompson
9. Red Raymond (KY), 117, Luis S. Quinonez
10. Celluloid Hero (KY), 117, Seth B. Martinez