Friday, April 2, 2010

The Lion King of the Illinois Derby

Well everyone I finally got my wish. Tomorrow, we will get to see American Lion on dirt, and all I could say was thank GOD, when I found out. Then, I looked at the entries and said, why oh why. I said this because I am a huge fan of American Lion, but at the same time I am a huge fan of Backtalk, who just won his three year old debut in the Sportsman Paradise Stakes.

I first saw Backtalk in the Bashford Manor and it was love at first sight. I loved him even more when I saw him display some grit, when he dug deep down, to win in a dog fight, in the Sanford. That year would be his last win. He would lose in the Hopeful Stakes, to Dublin, the horse he had left reeling back in fourth, in his debut. In the Hopeful, it was he who finished fourth. His next race would be an off the board performance on the synthetic Polytrack at Keeneland. From that point he dropped off the radar.
When I heard Backtalk would be making his 3yr old debut, after an unspectacular ending to his juvenile year, I planted myself in front of my TV, refusing to give up on him. It was not a pretty race, by any means, in fact it was the complete opposite of the word, as Backtalk ran as greenly as a maiden two year old, with absolutely no focus whatsoever, but he still won. Based on his talent, he won. Since then he worked a bullet six furlongs in 1.09.6 at the Fair Grounds, nearly as fast as the meets best, at the distance this year.

He wins his first race back. He works like a champion, and is bred with two Classic winners, one of which was a Triple Crown winner, in his lineage, and despite these facts I still think he may end up second best to American Lion. Now all of you go "American Lion? Hasn't he lost his last two starts?" The answer is yes, yes he has, but that was over Pro-Ride, a very biased surface, that tends to work against speed horses. Dirt on the other hand seems to be very conductive to a horse with American Lion's running style.

The grand bay proved he was able to handle two types of synthetic, before he floundered over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride. In fact he even won a grade three stakes, that has earned him the respect he has now. In the Illinois Derby, American Lion, a horse that does not need the lead, but loves to be in the thick of things early, and is quite capable of taking the lead, is extremely dangerous. He is, on paper the only horse, really capable of flashing any early speed. If left alone, which is a very real possibility, he could prove tough to catch. Plus, it seems every synthetic horse transferring to dirt blows a race wide open, in their initial start over the main track.

Both are trying to rebuild the reputation they had as two year olds. Both are capable of doing so. It just so happens, one, in this particular instance may have all the advantages, which is why, I think American Lion will be King of the Illinois Derby by the end of this weekend.

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