Strong Contender was the first to reach the gate for the 1 1/8-mile Super Derby, and he took several passes at the starting enclosure before finally acquiescing to the wishes of the assistant starters. Ridden by Robby Albarado, he was well in hand after breaking a bit slowly from his rail post and raced comfortably in the second tier of horses for the first three quarters of a mile.
The same could not be said of Lawyer Ron, the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) winner who was pulling regular jockey John McKee hard from the start while racing well off the rail. Lawyer Ron took over the lead from 55-1 His Eyes after a quarter mile in :23 3/5 and led the seven-horse field through fractions of :46 3/5 and 1:10 4/5. After opening up a daylight lead on the backstretch, Lawyer Ron angled to the inside and dueled with outsider Costa Rising, who challenged on the far turn and proved difficult to shake.
"He didn't want to relax," Lawyer Ron's trainer Bob Holthus said. "The third-quarter mile is what did him in. He's only had one race in five months. He beat himself."
Albarado urged Strong Contender to get involved on the turn, and the Dwyer (gr. II) winner responded when roused with a three-wide move as they reached the drive. In the bid for the wire, Strong Contender and Lawyer Ron brushed a bit but the John Ward trainee proved best by one length. The final time was a strong 1:48 3/5 on a fast track.
"I thought Lawyer Ron went a little quicker than normal," Albarado said. "The idea was just to follow him around he's the best horse, the one to beat. I just guided myself behind him and when I had to make a move, I did."
It was 6 1/2 lengths back to third-place finisher Louisbord and Lonnie Meche, a neck better than Costa Rising. Majestic Stream and His Eyes were next, followed by the trailing 5-2 second choice Point Determined.
The puzzling Point Determined rallied under a hard ride from jockey Victor Espinoza up the backstretch but was losing ground as the field reached the far turn, struggling home nearly 34 lengths behind.
Strong Contender was freshened since finishing third, 8 1/4 lengths behind Bluegrass Cat in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) Aug. 6. The chestnut colt earned $275,000, bumping his earnings to $596,000 with four wins and three thirds in seven lifetime starts.
Haras Santa Maria de Aras SA bred Strong Contender, who cost $800,000 at Keeneland in April 2005.
"They had high expectations for this horse," Albarado said after his first ride aboard Strong Contender. "It was probably better that he didn't run against all those tough horses in the early trials. Today my horse showed he's one of the best and he'll be a force to be reckoned with later in the year."
The third choice, he paid $7.60, $3.20, and $2.60. Lawyer Ron, in his second start since finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) returned $2.80 and $2.10. Local choice Louisborg was $3.40 to show.
Lawyer Ron entered the race with five wins in six races this year, including two at Louisiana Downs, including the Risen Star (gr. III). He won the St. Louis Derby in his return race.