The jury’s in: Lawyer Ron!

May 2, 2006 6:24 AM

It’s D Day minus five and counting. That’s "D" as in Derby — the Kentucky Derby.

The greatest two minutes in sports could produce another memorable winner, such as Affirmed, Assault, Citation, Count Fleet, Gallant Fox, Omaha, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Sir Barton or Whirlaway — each a Triple Crown winner — or a puzzling dud, like Dust Commander, Gato Del Sol, Sea Hero or Giacomo.

In what appears to be the most contentious Derby in years, the winner is anyone’s guess. The pace, however, is a foregone conclusion. With Keyed Entry, Sharp Humor, Sinister Minister, Sweetnorthernsaint, Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron all geared to go early, the adage "speed kills" is likely to apply.

Sinister Minister was just another 3-year-old in California before his eye-popping 12 3/4-length win on the front end in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. Despite earning a Beyer figure of 116, the best of any Derby prospect, most respected handicappers dismiss the performance because it was induced on a notoriously speed-favoring track.

Sweetnorthernsaint won the Illinois Derby by nine under Kent Desormeaux in a race remindful of last year’s winner, Greeley’s Galaxy, also ridden by Desormeaux. Last year, they were up the track in the Derby.

Brother Derek has a reputation as a front-runner, but he doesn’t have to be on the lead to win, although clockers who have watched him train say he can be head strong, or rank, a trait that doesn’t bode well going a mile and a quarter in a 20-horse field. The doughty California-bred has improved with each race as a 3-year-old and appeared to be coming into the Derby at his peak before his seven-furlong work on April 24, when he schlepped around in 1:28.40. Like the other contenders, Brother Derek will need to get a clean trip.

The Derby offers apparent closers such as Bob and John, Point Determined and A.P. Warrior, in addition to meritorious longshots Steppenwolfer and Jazil.

Lawyer Ron runs fast and far. He moves early and stays late. Unlike some of the others, he is battle-tested and has shown his mettle by racing fearlessly between horses in large fields. Professional clocker Gary Young fancies Lawyer Ron.

"He’s definitely a nice horse," Young said. "I was afraid he went to the lead too early in the Arkansas Derby when he was kind of chirped to, but he won despite that. Really, he’s a run-off.

"I like Barbaro, too, although I’m not sure about the five-week gap since his last race (the Florida Derby on April 1; the last horse to win the Derby off a five-week layoff was Needles in 1956). I still think he’s a better turf horse.

"For a price, I like Steppenwolfer. I like the way he finished in the Arkansas Derby. It reminded me of the way Real Quiet came to the wire in the (1998) Santa Anita Derby. Even though he got beat, he was stroking it really nice at the end.

"Brother Derek pulls a little too much for me for him to get a mile and a quarter."

There are two schools of thought on Brother Derek’s last work before he shipped to Kentucky last Thursday. From a negative view, he was behind work mates, uncharacteristically took dirt in his face, and did not pass the horses in front him. Or, it was done on purpose to familiarize him with what he could experience in the Derby.

Young is firm in his conviction that Sinister Minister’s victory over the Keeneland strip was an aberration.

"Sinister Minister will get beat a long way in the Derby," he said. "Keeneland is like Vegas: what happens at Keeneland stays at Keeneland."

My major players: Barbaro, Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron. Contenders: A.P. Warrior, Bob and John, Point Determined and Sweetnorthernsaint. Longshots with a chance: Jazil, Private Vow and Steppenwolfer. No chance: the rest, or half the field.

Speed is not likely to hold, and no horse is likely to come from the clouds and win, as Giacomo did last year. If Lawyer Ron gets a good stalking trip from the first flight, he can accelerate when needed and have enough left to hold on. Make it Lawyer Ron, Brother Derek, Point Determined and Barbaro.

THE HOMESTRETCH

I see where Kent Desormeaux missed Sweetnorthernsaint’s workout Saturday when he overslept because he never got a wake up call from the hotel. Wasn’t that a "Seinfeld" episode? ”¦ Bob Baffert winning the Derby Trial with Record could be a good omen for him in the Run for the Roses, with three live horses ”¦ Bluesthestandard has been retired. The popular 9-year-old gelding was the 4-5 morning line favorite in last Thursday’s second race at Hollywood Park, but in part due to a public outcry, the Georgia-bred son of American Standard was scratched. When I told trainer Bob Hess Jr. of critical pre-race e-mails that had been received questioning the horse’s fitness, he said the horse was telling him "he wants to run, and we plan to run." I said it would be a "PR nightmare" if the horse were injured during the race. Apparently, the message hit home and when trainer Kristin Mulhall offered to let Bluesthestandard live peacefully and painlessly in retirement at her farm in Covina, California, owner Steve Sobel acquiesced. Second in the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Sprint when trained by Ted H. West, Bluesthestandard retired with 19 wins from 47 starts and earnings of $1,041,618 ”¦ This just in: the cost of gas in Southern California did not go up in the last hour.