Lawyer Ron loved to run.
No greater praise can be
bestowed upon a Thoroughbred. He was an impossible horse not to like, from his
kind disposition to his consistency and unbridled enthusiasm in the mornings and
Although his lifetime record
of 26 starts, 12 wins, four seconds, and four thirds is impressive as it is,
let us remember that 11 of those starts came on the turf or Polytrack, neither
of which he was particularly fond of, or at a mile and quarter, clearly not his
best distance. But in his other starts - from seven furlongs to 1 1/8 miles -
he compiled a record of 15 starts, 12 wins, two seconds, and a third. He earned
a 106 Beyer speed figure in January of his 3-year-old year and ran a 119 and
117 at Saratoga as a 4-year-old, while setting a new track record of 1:46 3/5
in the Whitney. When stretched out to 1 1/4 miles in the Jockey Club Gold Cup,
he dueled with eventual Horse of the Year Curlin the length of the stretch,
only to fall a neck short.
By the time I first laid eyes
on Lawyer Ron at Churchill Downs prior to the Kentucky Derby, he was already an
established star, riding a six-race winning streak, five of them stakes,
including the Arkansas Derby, Rebel, Southwest, and Risen Star. His average
margin of victory in those six races was almost 5 3/4 lengths. Because of his
eagerness to run, he wasn't always the easiest ride for jockey John McKee.
In December of Lawyer Ron's
2-year-old campaign, I received an e-mail from Bill Bianco Jr., who raced a
number of top horses with his father under the name Fog City Stable, including
the 2005 Santa Anita Derby winner Buzzard's Bay. Bianco said he had been
following a little-known colt named Lawyer Ron and all but assured me this was
a special horse. Following Lawyer Ron's 10 3/4-length victory in an
allowance/optional claimer at Louisiana Downs, Bianco had trainer Bob Baffert
watch the race and then made an offer on the horse, but owner James T. Hines refused
to sell. Hines would refuse $1-million and $2-million offers (the latter
following the Risen Star). And this was after Lawyer Ron survived the claim box
at Turfway Park in Sept. 2005, when anyone could
have had him for $50,000.
Before being sent to trainer
Bob Holthus, Lawyer Ron received his early training from Tim Glyshaw, who also said
he felt the horse was going to be special. But in the beginning, he was just a
face in the crowd. When Lawyer Ron developed a shin problem after turning in a
series of bullet works over the hard turf course at Ellis Park, Glyshaw tried
everything he could to slow him down. Several times, the colt came close to
bucking his shins, but always fought through it. Training over the Polytrack
helped, but he still was too aggressive. During his gallops, whenever he saw a
horse working inside him he'd go after him.
Fast forward to April, 2006,
two weeks before the 2006 Kentucky Derby. If there was one thing you could set
your watch by it was that Lawyer Ron would be standing outside his barn at
7:45, getting saddled for his morning gallop. Standing a few feet away, waiting
to get a leg up, was exercise rider Betsy Couch. Holthus, like Glyshaw, was
trying to rein in Lawyer Ron and get him to relax, which is why he would send
him to the track right before the renovation break when there were few horses
on the track. Ron would stand on the track for 10-15 minutes watching the last
of the activity before he would begin his gallop. Sometimes, however, he wanted
to get right into it and had no desire to stand around.
You could see he was loving
every second of his gallops, the way he would arch his neck and cock his head
to the inside with his mouth open, looking at any activity on the apron.
Despite having 14 starts in nine months, he carried his flesh extremely well,
and seemed to be thriving on racing and training.
One morning, as he galloped
by, Bob Baffert commented, "He's a pretty healthy-looking horse."
As Couch said, "He's smart,
he's kind, and he's a racehorse.
One time, there was a loose
horse on the track, and Couch had to get him to the outside. After the loose
horse went by him, Couch turned him to the inside and dropped the reins, and
Lawyer Ron went right about his business. Couch said to trainer Frank Brothers,
"That's why I love this horse so much. He's just so kind."
No one was closer to Lawyer
Ron than his groom, Chuck Chambers, who called him "The Big Dawg," and often
referred to him as "The Dream Horse."
But the course Lawyer Ron
would take in life was altered dramatically when Jim Hines was found drowned in
his indoor swimming pool at his home on Feb. 20, just five days before the
Southwest Stakes. That set off a series of legal matters and court battles.
Hines' close friend, advisor, and attorney, Ron Bamberger, for whom the horse
was named, became the executor of Hines' estate, and took control of Lawyer
Ron's racing career after several of Hines' children told him they wanted to
continue the racing operation. As the Derby
grew near, the offers continued, but the Hines' children wanted to see their father's
dream of running in the Kentucky Derby fulfilled.
Two days before the Derby, Bamberger
announced that he had sold a large interest in Lawyer Ron to an affiliate company
of Audrey Haisfield's Stonewall Farm Stallion, with the stipulation that Hines'
estate had the legal right to control the horse's racing career, while running
him in Hines' colors. That relationship eventually resulted in a long,
drawn-out lawsuit when Bamberger said Lawyer Ron would continue to race as a
4-year-old. Stonewall, of course, wanted to breed him in 2007, but Bamberger,
following a court ruling three days after the Breeders' Cup, was allowed to
continue racing him, unless Lawyer Ron failed to finish first or second in two
consecutive races. By then, the horse was no longer in Holthus' barn, having
been turned over to Todd Pletcher.
Lawyer Ron had run poorly in
the Kentucky Derby, well behind Barbaro, but came out of the race with a chip
in his right hind ankle, which was removed three days after the Derby at Rood & Riddle equine clinic in Lexington. Lawyer Ron
missed 40 days of training, and returned nearly four months later, winning the
St. Louis Derby at Fairmount
Park before finishing
second in the Super Derby. It was after that race that Bamberger decided to
change trainers, wanting to see Lawyer Ron compete in the top New York stakes.
Holthus was at the doctor's when
he was told of the decision and called his stable foreman and told him they'd
be coming to take Lawyer Ron. About three minutes later, the foreman called
Holthus informing him the horse was gone. Holthus did retain a breeding right.
He had two wishes for Lawyer Ron, only one of which he was granted. "I just
hope he runs good and lives a long time."
The following day, Pletcher
called Holthus and told him he was sorry the way things turned out. Holthus had
known Pletcher since he was 8-years-old, and if someone was going to get Lawyer
Ron he was glad it was him instead of someone he didn't know. "At least I know
he's got a good home," Holthus said.
Bamberger, who had a deep
emotional connection with Lawyer Ron, not because of his name as much as seeing
him run in Hines' silks and keeping his memory alive. It was difficult for him
to talk about the horse and Hines without getting choked up.
Fast forward once again, this
time to July 28, 2007 at Saratoga.
Lawyer Ron had won the Oaklawn Handicap, but subsequently could only manage a
third in the Met Mile and a second in the Salvator Mile. Now, it was the
morning of the Whitney.
At 8:30, blacksmith Ray Amato
was putting the final nails in Lawyer Ron's new shoes. The colt stood calmly,
barely moving a muscle, as Amato's assistant, Joe Estrada, stroked his head and
planted an occasional kiss on his muzzle. But Amato felt something that escaped
the naked eye.
"Joe, can you bring his head
around, he's layin' on me pretty good," Amato said to Estrada, as he felt the
strength of Lawyer Ron pushing against him. "Come on, Ron, stand up here now.
After a few minutes, Amato was unable to continue. "Joe, I'm gonna have to let
him go; he's really layin' on me."
That seemingly insignificant
scene took on a good deal more meaning later that afternoon when Lawyer Ron
laid over his 10 opponents, who also felt the colt's strength as he powered his
way to a 4 3/4-length victory in track-record time.
One of the reasons Lawyer Ron
was more cooperative that year than the year before, learning how to rate
kindly, was the addition of draw reins for his morning gallops. In the Whitney,
a more professional Lawyer Ron sat behind the pace after breaking from the
10-post, and when John Velazquez asked him, he exploded and busted the race
wide open. A month later, he romped by 8 1/4 lengths in the Woodward Stakes.
Stretching out to 1 1/4 miles, which was not his best distance, he doggedly turned
back the challenge of Curlin. It was only after Robby Albarado brought Curlin
in closer and let him eyeball Lawyer Ron that the Preakness winner was able to
thrust his neck in front right at the wire. Curlin would go on to win the
Breeders' Cup Classic to nail down his first of two Horse of the Year titles.
Lawyer Ron, like many other top-class horses in the field, floundered over the
sloppy track at Monmouth
Park and never
Afterward, he was retired to
Stonewall Farm. On July 10, 2009, he was euthanized due to complications from
colic surgery at the age of 6.
Although his life ended way
too soon, it is hoped that Lawyer Ron will not be forgotten. In today's often
complex racing world, he was something simple and pure: a horse who loved to