HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Lawyer Ron will have to tackle new shooter Private Vow and hold off the improving Steppenwolfer to win his fifth straight race Saturday in the Grade 3, $300,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
The three colts are the main players in the 1 1/16-mile prep for the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby. All are ranked on Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch.
Lawyer Ron is the one to beat in the Rebel based on his record, his recent form, and his success over the surface. He also is moving back to the distance at which he earned a career best Beyer Speed Figure of 106.
"He's doing great," said Bob Holthus, who trains Lawyer Ron for the Estate of James T. Hines Jr. "He's still maturing. Amazingly, he's putting on weight with training and racing, which is a pretty good sign."
Lawyer Ron was a determined, three-quarter-length winner over Steppenwolfer last out in the $250,000 Southwest at one mile at Oaklawn, while giving the runner-up five pounds. Lawyer Ron, who has won three consecutive two-turn stakes, will again concede five pounds to Steppenwolfer, as well as three to Private Vow.
Lawyer Ron has raced just off the pace in some of his starts, but won the Southwest wire-to-wire in a strategic move to take advantage of an inside draw and stay ahead of trouble or traffic. He will break from the rail in the Rebel under John McKee.
Private Vow, who is making his first start since winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 26, drew gate 5. As a fresh horse with natural speed, he also figures to be prominent Saturday.
"We're probably looking at a similar scenario, pace-wise, as the Kentucky Jockey Club," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Private Vow.
In that 1 1/16-mile race, Private Vow raced close throughout and drew clear for a 2 1/4-length win. For his effort, he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 96, the highest last-race Beyer in the Rebel. Shaun Bridgmohan has the mount on Private Vow, who last year also won the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont Park.
Steppenwolfer, who drew gate 10, is a closer who will benefit if the pace is honest. In his last start, he rallied from 11 lengths back and had to launch his bid earlier than usual because the one-mile Southwest ended at the sixteenth pole, as do all races at that distance at Oaklawn.
Robby Albarado will ride Steppenwolfer for trainer Dan Peitz.
"We're hoping to get a little better pace scenario for us, and that Robby maybe won't have to move as soon with a little longer stretch," said Peitz. "Maybe somebody will kind of go with Lawyer Ron the first part. We hope it works out."
Others in the field include Nob Hill Deelite, who has won his last four starts, and the stakes-placed Travelin Leroy, who was found to have a lung infection following his ninth-place finish in the Southwest. Travelin Leroy has since worked four furlongs in a bullet 47 seconds, and was out five furlongs in 59.20, said his trainer, Gammy Vazquez.
Completing the field are Red Raymond, Music School, Kip Deville, Well Said, and Film Fortune, a maiden from the barn of trainer Jack Van Berg.
Purse: $300,000; 1 1/16 miles; Grade 3
* Odds by Kristin Sadler
* Television: Saturday, 6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN