- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2006

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There are lots of good horses set to run in tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby, but the men and women behind the horses don’t have quite the same pizzazz as last year, when reporters were staking out barns to see if New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner would show up to speak about his contender.

This year, Houston Texans owner Robert McNair is the closest thing there is to a high-profile owner, with his horse Bob and John running in the 132nd Derby, and he just doesn’t stir the juices like the Boss does.

The hearts and flowers tales that are often found in the backstretch don’t quite measure up, either, this time around. There are no Seabiscuit stories here.

Last year there was Afleet Alex, who had been named after several owners’ children with the name Alex and then made a connection with Alex Scott, who had been diagnosed with cancer before her first birthday and made national news in 2000 by setting up a lemonade stand to raise money for pediatric cancer research when she was 4 years old (she died in August 2004). The owners of Afleet Alex pledged a percentage of the horse’s earnings to Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

Two years ago, there was Smarty Jones, the horse who nearly killed himself in a training accident, along with a small-town trainer, a bad-boy jockey and an owner in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank at his side.

This year’s human interest story is about a rich businessman who drowned in February in his swimming pool, and the horse — named after the owner’s lawyer — now up for sale by that same lawyer, for the estate just days before the Derby.

Let’s see Hollywood do something with that.

The horse, Lawyer Ron, a Derby contender, is named after Ron Bamberger, the lawyer and longtime friend of Jim Hines, a multimillionaire with private jets, yachts and a Kentucky horse farm, who accidently drowned in his swimming pool four months ago.

“He wanted a Derby horse so much,” Bamberger said. “He’d had a couple of stakes winners, but nothing like this.”

But Bamberger is also the executor of the Hines estate — which includes six children from three marriages — and despite the wealth he left behind, Bamberger says it is his duty to get the best price for the horse he can for the estate, and that may be before tomorrow’s race. Today Lawyer Ron is a 4-1 favorite. Tomorrow afternoon, he could be a loser.

“As a fiduciary, you can’t let your emotions dictate what you do,” Bamberger said. “I am held to a standard that is such that I have to maximize the money for the estate the best that I can. So basically it is business is business.”

Touching, isn’t it?

The horse may not be sold in time for the race. Bamberger said there is no sale pending. “I am in negotiations, and have been for six weeks,” he said.

If Lawyer Ron is sold before the Derby, the horse still will wear the silks of Jim Hines’ farm. “It’s still Jim’s horse, and there is no question that he will be wearing Jim’s silks,” Bamberger said. “I won’t negotiate anything that doesn’t involve that.”

But if it is sold, it won’t be Jim Hines’ horse in the winner’s circle. And if for some reason Lawyer Ron was good enough to go on to win the Preakness, it won’t be Jim Hines’ horse vying for the Triple Crown. It will be somebody else’s.

Still, Bamberger says the family was reluctant to sell the horse, and has found comfort in his success, which came after Lawyer Ron lost his first five races on turf, and then was moved over to the dirt. The horse has won seven of seven races since then, including the Arkansas Derby.

“The loss of Jim was a tremendous loss, both personally for the family and because he was the one who ran the businesses,” Bamberger said. “The horse has been a great thing for the family.”

But that won’t get in the way of it being a lucrative thing for the family. Bamberger said Hines wouldn’t want it any other way. “Jim was a businessman,” he said.

“The colt is providing some healing for the family,” Bamberger said. “It’s helped take their minds off Jim. And if you’re a person who believes in the afterlife and good stories, then Jim’s up there helping things along. This whole thing really began right after he died.

“I’ll guarantee you, if he’s able to trade something up there for a victory Saturday, we’ll have one,” Bamberger said.

Then again, that would mean a horse named after a lawyer would get some sort of cosmic blessing to win the Kentucky Derby. Hines would have had to have been a very good businessman to pull that one off.

One Lawyer Ron fan is a believer. O.J. Simpson, who was roaming around among the stables yesterday morning at Churchill Downs.

“I’ve got a lot of good lawyers, so I’m a Lawyer Ron fan,” he said. “If he was Lawyer Johnnie [Simpson’s famed trial lawyer, the late Johnnie Cochran], I’d get a loan. I’d sell the house.”

Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

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