Powerful colt Lawyer Ron served notice that he's a Kentucky Derby favorite witha convincing victory in Arkansas
James T. Hines Jr.lived a fuller life than most men. Forty years ago, at age 29, he startedPremium Allied Tool, a metal-stamping company, on the back porch of hisOwensboro, Ky., home and built it into a multimillion-dollar operation thatemployed more than 600 people at its peak. When he died on Feb. 21 of anapparent accidental drowning in the indoor swimming pool at his home, Hinesowned five jets, a 98-foot yacht and a sprawling thoroughbred farm in westernKentucky.
"Jim was noSam Walton, but he was a wealthy and successful man," says Ron Bamberger,63, his close friend and personal attorney for nearly four decades. "Hecould do just about anything he wanted to. The one thing he never could do isrun a horse in the Kentucky Derby."
On May 6, barely10 weeks after Hines's death, Lawyer Ron, a horse Hines owned and bred, willstep into the starting gates at Churchill Downs. The powerful chestnut colt isamong the Derby favorites following his 2 3/4-length victory last Saturday inthe Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.
Lawyer Ron, who isnamed after Bamberger, has won six consecutive races and followed the same paththrough Arkansas that launched Smarty Jones (2004) and Afleet Alex (2005) tovictories in four of the last six Triple Crown races. Last Saturday, Lawyer Ronescaped early trouble when jockey John McKee made a bold move in the firstturn, pushing the colt through a small opening along the rail and moving himinto the lead for good. Lawyer Ron drew away from the field in the homestretchas McKee whipped him six times on the right side. "I thought it was just amonster performance," said McKee, 24, who will ride in his third KentuckyDerby. (He finished 13th on Pro Prado in 2004 and in the same position onGreater Good in 2005.)
Lawyer Ron bringstrainer Bob Holthus, 71, to the Derby for the fifth time. Holthus, who took outhis trainer's license two days after his 18th birthday, had his best Derbyfinish, fourth, with Proper Reality in 1988. He was hospitalized withcongestive heart failure a week after last year's Derby and had a newdefibrillator and pacemaker implanted. "Now here's the best horse I'vetrained," says Holthus.
Bamberger and fourof Hines's six children were in the winner's circle at Oaklawn on Saturday.Laine Nunn, 47, clutched one of her father's old handkerchiefs as Lawyer Ronrolled down the backstretch. "I was just squeezing it so hard and saying,'O.K., Dad. O.K., Dad,'" said Nunn after the race.
"It'sbittersweet, because Dad did all of this," said Jim Hines, 35. "But Iknow he'll be watching the Kentucky Derby."
One potentialtwist remains. Lawyer Ron is owned by Hines's estate, of which Bamberger is theexecutor. As Lawyer Ron's winning streak has grown, purchase offers haveexceeded $5 million, and they will increase after last weekend's win."Right now there is no decision to sell the horse," says Bamberger."It will be the greatest thing in the world to see Jim's silks on JohnMcKee and hear My Old Kentucky Home. But I have a fiduciary responsibility tothe estate, and I'm not saying that there's no price at which Lawyer Ron can'tbe bought, even before the Derby."
Here are the top contenders for the May 6 Kentucky Derby, including SI's oddson each.
Has six straight wins and the most experience (14 starts) of any horse in thefield
Some pundits have compared his ability to hold his speed with Smarty Jones's,but he will be pressured
Florida Derby champ is brilliant, but no horse in 50 years has won the firstTriple Crown leg following a five-week layoff
Easily won the Illinois Derby on April 8 and seems likely to enjoy the longerdistance at Churchill Downs
Has the same trainer (John Shirreffs) and ability to close at the end as 2005Derby champion Giacomo
Bob and John(10-1)
Wood Memorial winner (above) and one of three likely starters for three-timeDerby-winning trainer Bob Baffert
Baffert's free-running surprise Blue Grass Stakes winner won't get breathingroom in this field
United Arab Emirates Derby winner is intriguing, but no Dubai-based horse haswon the Run for the Roses
BILL FRAKES (2)
THEVERDICT - Lawyer Ron impressed both his namesake (inset) and McKee(4).
JOHN IACONO (BOB AND JOHN)