For several years, the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G2) was not a favorable prep race for Triple Crown hopefuls. However, with 2004 winner Smarty Jones and last year's winner Afleet Alex each winning 2 out of 3 Triple Crown races, the race has been thrust into the spotlight as a key race. With this in mind, a field of thirteen 3-year-olds went to the post in this 1 1/8 mile event in front of a record crowd of 72,484 at Oaklawn Park. Lawyer Ron was sent off as the prohibitive 1-2 favorite, coming into the race off a five-race winning streak including the Rebel, Southwest, and Risen Star Stakes in his last 3 starts. Among those in to challenge included 5-1 second choice Private Vow, seventh behind Lawyer Ron in the Rebel, and 7-1 third choice Steppenwolfer, third in the Rebel and second in the Southwest. Lawyer Ron's owner James T. Hines passed away days before the Rebel, so the horse's namesake, attorney and executor Ron Bamburger was on hand to represent Hines' estate.
At the start, Lawyer Ron broke inward bumping into 26-1 outsider With A City,
allowing 16-1 shot High Cotton, 37-1 Superfly, and Private Vow to pull away
and battle on the front around the clubhouse turn through a quarter in 23.00
seconds. Lawyer Ron was a length and a half back at this point, but jockey
John McKee asked him to hustle up to the front entering the backstretch to
avoid traffic trouble. Taking a ground-saving path along the rail, Lawyer Ron
had an uncontested lead through a half in 46.49 and three quarters in 1:10.98,
with Private Vow giving chase in second. At the top of the stretch, Lawyer
Ron did not slow down despite the fast fractions. Lawyer Ron completed the 9
furlongs in 1:51.38, the slowest Arkansas Derby since 1982, winning by 2 3/4
lengths. Private Vow weakened in mid-stretch, allowing the late-charging
Steppenwolfer to pass him inside the 1/8 pole to get second by 1 1/2 lengths.
It was a long 7 1/4 lengths back from Private Vow to the rest of the field.
Results chart from DRF
Winning trainer Bob Holthus said, "I'm glad Lawyer Ron didn't disappoint the people. It was a little tight down there on the first turn, but once he made the lead, I was very confident, even though there were still 5 1/2 furlongs to be run. The only thing I asked of John was try not to get trapped on the rail. Give him a place to run. And he wasn't taking any deep breaths when he came back. He's a dead-fit horse. He flies to Kentucky Monday morning. Odds for the Kentucky Derby? I think he will be no worse than second choice. Of course, I might have a bias."
Winning jockey John McKee said, "I didn't want to be challenging the other speed, but he was just real aggressive with me around the first turn. He is just full of himself right now. On the backside, he just took a hold of the race. He never stopped running. In the stretch, I was a little concerned and hit him a couple of times, and he just took off and I was like 'Wow!' It was just a monster performance. He went 1:10 and change and still drew off."