Dam: Storm Tide (Storm Cat)
Trainer: Eoin Harty
Jockey: David Flores
Career Record: 6-3-1-1
Graded Earnings: $378,000 (#12)
Running style: Speed / Press
If you're looking for a horse that has won on the lead but has also previously demonstrated an ability to sit off the pace when needed, then look no further than American Lion. This colt led wire to wire in his last race (Grade 2 Illinois Derby) but was a pure presser/stalker in every race leading up to that one, including his maiden breaking win and his score in the Grade 3 Hollywood Preview. He's got a lot of speed but I don't think he's a pure "need-to-lead" horse.
How he got to the Derby: As a juvenile, American Lion broke his maiden in a seven furlong Maiden Special Weight race at Keeneland before winning the Hollywood Preview at Hollywood Park in late November. Following a winter lay-off, American Lion began his three year old campaign with a second place finish behind Caracortado in the Grade 2 Bob Lewis and another runner-up finish to Sidney's Candy in the Grade 2 San Felipe. American Lion finally broke through in his sophomore season when he shipped to Hawthorne and won the Illinois Derby on March 28th.
What has to happen for him to win: Since he's shown the ability to stalk and win in prior races I think it's imperative that he resorts to that style in the Derby if he's to have any chance. I don't know that gives him a good chance to win. He didn't show an ability to get by Caracortado or Sidney's Candy this spring, and he'll be facing horses that are, at a minimum, just as good as those two, and are probably much, much better.
American Lion's best chance is to stalk the pace and hope Eskendereya and Lookin At Lucky don't fire or hit traffic trouble. If he gets into a pace duel with the other speed, he'll be toast.
American Lion is one of those horses that after I made my line I thought he was a little bit on the high side for odds but really felt like that's just where he falls in the pecking order. What I mean by that is there is only a finite amount of percentage points that you can apply in an odds line and some horses will end up with higher odds than you'd like simply due to the numbers game. In a twenty horse field, you're always going to have some big priced horses unless you make your favorites something like 6/1, which doesn't make sense in this Derby.
This horse probably makes sense at somewhere between 35/1 and 50/1, depending on how versatile you think he's going to be. I'm not sold on him specifically due to the fact that his big prep this spring came after a very securing an extremely leisurely lead.
Key race: Grade 2 Illinois Derby (1st)
Unlike his two previous races at Santa Anita, American Lion was able to get out and control the race in the Illinois Derby and from there it was a "catch me if you can" situation. The field let this colt get away with 1:13+ on the front-end for six and 1:38+ for the mile and that was all he needed to take them all the way around the track.
I don't know that his is a spectacular performance but it's in line with a lot of the other preps turned in by speed horses like Sidney's Candy, Rule and Conveyance.