12/10/2008 1:00AM

Autism Awareness will stalk


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Considering that Autism Awareness needed 13 races to beat maidens, the colt can be forgiven for a disappointing performance in an optional claimer at Golden Gate Fields last month.

The real test comes in Friday's seventh race at Hollywood Park, an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles. The winner of the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows last March, Autism Awareness is making the second start of a comeback following an eight-month break caused by a knee injury. Friday's race is seen as a prep to major stakes this winter by owner Johnny Taboada and trainer Genaro Vallejo.

Despite the recent loss, Vallejo said he was encouraged when Autism Awareness worked six furlongs in 1:13.40 at Golden Gate Fields last Saturday.

"He looked sharp," Vallejo said.

Autism Awareness pulled a 62-1 upset in the El Camino Real Derby, but was sidelined shortly after that race. In his comeback on Nov. 15, Autism Awareness led for six furlongs of a one-mile race and faded through the stretch.

"I didn't want to see him on the lead, and he got tired," Vallejo said. "He was a little too short probably."

In Friday's race, Autism Awareness is part of a field of seven. Bad Boy, who has shown speed in the past, and Limestone Edge, making his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Lone Star Derby in May, might contribute to the pace.

"I don't want to see him on the lead," Vallejo said of Autism Awareness. "I want to see him off the pace. There are two speed horses in there. We can sit just off of them."

Clinton Potts will ride Autism Awareness for the first time.

"Hopefully, he can take a hold of him and we'll go from there," Vallejo said.

The race features one other stakes winner - Time to Get Even, who is winless in four starts since the Grade 3 Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes here in May 2007.

Limestone Edge was beaten 3 1/4 lengths by El Gato Malo in the Lone Star Derby, his stakes debut. Trained by Bob Hess Jr., for Terry Lanni, Limestone Edge has had a series of quick workouts at Santa Anita in recent weeks.

"This is where we hoped to run him," Hess said. "He's ready to run. He hasn't been sitting in the barn."