It was a sweltering August evening in suburban St. Louis, and I can still remember the sweat dripping from my forehead, momentarily blurring my vision from the copper chestnut beauty that was just a few feet away from me. His name was Lawyer Ron and he was one of the two reasons my wife and I had made the journey from our suburban Chicago home to little Fairmount Park in Collinsville, Illinois. The other reason being to see a local favorite of mine named Lewis Michael, as he squared off with Lawyer Ron in what would turn out to be the only edition of the St. Louis Derby ever held at Fairmount. I felt a bit like a sardine as nearly 8,000 spectators packed the track, but I knew I was seeing something special that night in the paddock. Lawyer Ron had a presence about him, as if he knew that his competition would not touch him.
And so it would be when the running began. Confidently ridden by his regular rider, John McKee, Lawyer Ron effortlessly rallied from the middle of the pack to take over as the big field turned for home. When Lewis Michael asked the 4-5 shot what he had early in the lane, the answer was swift and decisive. Lawyer Ron was too good. Much to the delight of the large crowd, he had done exactly what most of them wanted. In his first race since he came out of the Kentucky Derby injured, Lawyer Ron was in the winner's circle once again, as he had been in his six consecutive races before the run for the roses. Lawyer Ron was a winner, and I was honored to have seen him do his thing in the St. Louis Derby.
After beginning his career on turf and synthetics, the son of Canadian champion, Langfuhr, and out of the Lord Avie mare, Donation, quickly demonstrated what kind of horse he was when an optional claimer at Louisiana Downs was taken off the turf in December of his juvenile season. Winning off that day by nearly eleven lengths, Lawyer Ron would never again run on anything but dirt, and the wins would follow. Five straight stakes to be exact, culminating with a powerful win in the Arkansas Derby. That victory completed a sweep of Oaklawn Park's Derby preps, all in convincing style. It was not to be for the Bob Holthus trained star in Barbaro's Kentucky Derby, as it would not go well for him in two consecutive BC Classics, but it mattered little because of two superlative years of racing. Over that time period, Lawyer Ron would overcome adversity time and time again.
Even his ownership situation was rocky. Originally owned by his breeder, James Hines, things would change suddenly when Hines died suddenly in a drowning accident just days before his star would begin his assault on Oaklawn Park. Hines's longtime attorney, Ron Bamberger, for whom the horse was named, took charge of the colt as executor of the Hines estate. Before a run under the twin spires of Churchill Downs, Bamberger would sell majority interest to Stonewall Farm just days before the Derby. There would be very few days when the partnership would seem to agree on anything since the sale. Several lawsuits would follow. But little of all that has to do with the horse, and as good as his sophomore season was, Lawyer Ron's career as an older horse may have been even better.
There were no long winning streaks like in the early part of 2006, but there was plenty of brilliance. Before a loss against the best horses in the world, Invasor and Bernardini, in the previous fall's Classic, Lawyer Ron had been transferred to the barn of high profile conditioner, Todd Pletcher. After a very busy campaign up until the bone chip found after the Kentucky Derby, his new trainer mapped out an ambitious, but less frequent campaign for his four-year-old season. He looked powerful in his season debut at Gulfstream Park, and even better in his second start, a four-length romp in the Handicap of his old stomping grounds of Oaklawn Park.
A brief freshening was ended by two narrow defeats in the Met Mile at Belmont and the Salvator Mile at Monmouth. He was considered right near the top of the older male division, but he seemed to be stalling in the momentum from his first few wins. Neither mile performance was anything but solid, but Lawyer Ron needed a breakout race, or perhaps he needed two of them.
Enter the summer spa. Saratoga is like no other racetrack in the world. Top horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners all show up to run against the best in the best meet of the calendar year. Appreciative fans flock to the Spa to watch the great racing at the upstate oval. It's been like that for a long time at Saratoga, and for all of that time, some horses just seem to flourish there. Lawyer Ron flourished. Turning the Spa into his own personal playground, he made an absolute mockery of two of the most tradition rich older horse races of the year. First in the Whitney, under his new rider John Velazquez, he exploded from his outside stalking position to roll home by nearly five lengths in the 11 horse field. Final time was a powerhouse 1:46 3/5 for the nine panels. Five weeks later, he trumped that performance with a 8 ¼ length tour-de-force in the Woodward Stakes. The Beyer boys liked what they saw in Saratoga, slapping a 117 and then a 119 on Ron for his two monster wins. There was now no horse rated higher in the nation.
The two sensational wins at Saratoga virtually locked up a divisional championship, now it was just a matter of whether Horse of the Year would be his as well. The Jockey Club Gold Cup would be next and it would prove to be one of the best races of the year. He was sent off as a heavy favorite despite giving his super young opponent four pounds. That opponent being Curlin, and the two chestnuts would lock horns early in the Belmont Park lane. Neither willing to give an inch, it would eventually be youth that was served, as Lawyer Ron came up a neck short. Off the gallant defeat, Lawyer Ron was sent to the Breeders' Cup Classic at Monmouth Park. The heavens opened up for racing's big day, and some horses handled the conditions, and some did not. The latter was the case for the talented four-year-old, and his great career would end with culminate with an unsatisfying seventh place finish, while his JCGC pal, Curlin, stormed home to win and collect the Horse of the Year honor.
Lawyer Ron, was retired after the poor run on the messy Monmouth track, and would soon later be named the Champion Older Male of 2007. In all Lawyer Ron won 12 times in 26 starts. On dirt, his record was an even more impressive 12 for 19. He won nine stakes races, and his lifetime earnings came in just a shade under $2.8 million.
He was sent to stud at Stonewall Farm, and enjoyed two seasons of breeding. Sadly, Lawyer Ron would not be destined to enjoy any more. On the evening of July 11, 2009, less than two years removed from his fabulous summer at Saratoga, The champion horse was put down after complications from colic surgery. The racing world was stunned. He had undergone what was called a very minor surgery several weeks earlier to correct a rupture in his abdominal sac. In June he had returned to the clinic, Woodford Equine Hospital, because of a slight fever, and then a few weeks later he was suddenly gone.
We are now left with only memories of his racing career, and hopefully a little bit more. His first foals are juveniles this year, and his second and final crop will be set to hit racetracks next year. We can only hope that some of them will have half the engine that drove him to the wire first in so many races.
Things were never easy for Lawyer Ron. From beginning his career on the wrong surface, to tough luck in his biggest races, and a tumultuous set of circumstances behind his ownership, Lawyer Ron persevered. He persevered that is, until he succumbed. Six years old is far too young for any living thing to leave this world. It is especially tragic when we lose a fantastic champion. He was a winner, and ever since that evening in St. Louis, I was convinced that he knew it. I remember you Lawyer Ron.