After attempting to rate unsuccessfully in his first two starts this year, WinStar Farm's AMERICAN LION (Tiznow) went right to the lead in Saturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby (G2) and never surrendered, securing a spot in the Kentucky Derby (G1) starting gate with a 2 3/4-length decision. The Eoin Harty-trained colt completed 1 1/8 miles over the fast, drying-out Hawthorne track in 1:51 1/5.
With the addition of David Flores in the saddle, American Lion broke sharply from his rail post and led by about a length through opening fractions of :24 4/5 and :49 1/5. Yawanna Twist (Yonaguska), who also got away to a good start and tracked the leader on the outside, began to crank up the pressure upon reaching the far turn, advancing to nearly equal terms as American Lion completed six furlongs in 1:13 1/5.
The two rivals entered the stretch together and American Lion was still a head in front after a mile in 1:38 1/5, but Yawanna Twist could not sustain his run in the final furlong. Off as the 3-1 second choice, American Lion returned $8.60, $3.80 and $2.80 after edging clear in deep stretch, and the bay keyed the $24.60 exacta with 6-5 favorite Yawanna Twist, who paid $2.80 and $2.20.
The rest of the field was never in serious contention. Backtalk (Smarty Jones) out-finished Turf Melody (Maria's Mon) by a neck for third, 11 1/4 lengths back of the runner-up, and the 7-2 third choice returned $3. Turf Melody took fourth at 11-1 and was followed under the wire by Dave in Dixie (Dixie Union), Boulder Creek (Tapit), Stephen's Got Hope (Stephen's Got Even) and Game Ball (Sky Mesa). The trifecta totaled $73.40, and the 1-4-7-5 superfecta was worth $244.80.
With the $291,000 payday in his dirt debut, American Lion boosted his career bankroll to $413,600, and his graded earnings to a comfortable $378,000, and his overall line now reads 6-3-1-1. Second when making his career bow at Arlington Park last September, he captured his second career start by 6 3/4 lengths over the Polytrack at Keeneland and then jumped straight to stakes company, concluding his juvenile campaign with a half-score in the Hollywood Prevue S. (G3) in late November.
American Lion was rank during the early stages of his 2010 debut, the Robert B. Lewis S. (G2), and wound up weakening to third. He added blinkers for the March 13 San Felipe S. (G2) and never settled into a relaxed stalking trip for previous jockey Julien Leparoux, retreating through the stretch to finish a well-beaten fourth. Harty removed the blinkers on Saturday.
Bred by WinStar in partnership with Dr. William Lockridge, American Lion is out of the winning Storm Cat mare Storm Tide, who is a full sister to Canadian stakes victor Weather Warning. The colt's second dam is City Band (Carson City), heroine of the 1996 Oak Leaf S. (G1) and Golden Rod S. (G3) and runner-up in the Hollywood Starlet S. (G1). American Lion has two full siblings, an unnamed juvenile colt and a yearling filly.