The first weekend of the Keeneland fall meet carried plenty of meaning for the Nov. 6-7 Breeders' Cup, at least in producing potential starters.
The second weekend? Not so much - although what otherwise might have been a forgettable maiden race could have produced a contender for the 2010 classics.
American Lion, owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Eoin Harty, looked sensational in capturing the last race Sunday, drawing off to win the seven-furlong race by nearly seven lengths in 1:22.22 over Polytrack and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 93. Of course, it's quite a leap from an October maiden win to becoming a major player on the road to the Triple Crown, but all such journeys begin with a first step.
"He's one of our two best 2-year-olds," WinStar's racing manager, Elliott Walden, said Monday. "To this point, it's him and Super Saver," fourth in the Champagne Stakes for trainer Todd Pletcher. "We were extremely pleased with the way he ran."
Walden said WinStar, the central Kentucky powerhouse owned by Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, has had "at least 12 2-year-olds" win or run second in maiden races this year. American Lion is by the hot sire Tiznow and is the first foal out of a young Storm Cat mare named Storm Tide, whose dam, City Band, was a Grade 1 winner.
American Lion finished second in his only prior start, a Sept. 13 maiden race at Arlington Park, when trained by Richard Budge. Historically, Budge has handled the less-talented WinStar runners when listed as program trainer for the occasional race, but Walden said fans "shouldn't read anything into that at all. Richard is a private trainer for us on the farm, and all the horses come through him at some point."
In the case of American Lion, "we just decided not to send him to Del Mar for his first start and had Richard take him up to Chicago to run him the one time, knowing the horse would join up with Eoin when he came here for the fall meet."
Walden said American Lion was being flown Monday to join Harty's main strings of horses in southern California, where the colt will be pointed to the Grade 1, $750,000 CashCall Futurity on Dec. 19 at Hollywood Park, with possibly a prep race in between.