11/19/2009 1:00AM

First impression: American Lion the real deal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Noble's Promise won Keeneland's Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity, then nearly won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile earlier this month, leading in the closing strides before fading to finish a close third behind Vale of York and Lookin at Lucky.

The thing is - he wasn't the best 2-year-old to race at Keeneland this fall, at least to these eyes.

Rather it was American Lion, a maiden winner Oct. 18 who now runs in Saturday's Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue.

My advice to horseplayers in California: Get your money down. This colt is the real deal.

When American Lion won at Keeneland last month in his second start, which followed a runner-up finish at Arlington in September, he did everything right. Breaking alertly, he settled into a comfortable early pace on the outside, just off the leader, and then simply overwhelmed the opposition. Taking command at the top of the stretch, American Lion drew off to 6 3/4-length victory, racing seven furlongs in 1:22.22. He earned a 93 Beyer Speed Figure, 2 points higher than Noble's Promise got for winning the Breeders' Futurity.

He also did it with his ears pricked and while being geared down in the closing yards.

Admittedly, it is easy to sometimes get too excited about a horse off a maiden win before he proves his mettle against winners. But this wasn't just some horse that made the front and got brave - American Lion did it without the luxury of an easy lead.

And did I mention his size? Like many offspring of Tiznow, he's big. Very big.

Which makes the speed American Lion displayed all the more impressive. This is a horse who should only get better with more distance and experience as he develops into his frame.

Evidently I wasn't the only one impressed because Kentucky-based Julien Leparoux, who rode him to victory at Keeneland, is heading to California to ride him, even though the Hollywood Prevue carries just a $100,000 purse.

American Lion will likely go favored, but my hope is the presence of Bob Baffert trainees Indian Firewater and Macias will attract enough horseplayer support to make the price respectable.

Bogue Chitto live longshot

Looking for the most competitive stakes race around on Saturday? Take a look at the Grade 3 Kennedy Road Stakes at Woodbine. It has 10 evenly matched sprinters going six furlongs on Polytrack, and predicting the favorite, let along the winner, is difficult.

My value-based choice is 8-1 outsider Bogue Chitto, a horse that is regularly underestimated, presumably because he is a former claimer.

Former claimer or not, this gelding is fast. He enters this stakes race off five consecutive Beyers of 90 or higher, with two of those lofty figures coming on turf and the other three over the Polytrack.

Although yet to win a stakes, Bogue Chitto has finished second in both his stakes attempts. In September, he was a distant second in the King Corrie Stakes behind Hollywood Hit, who won the race in a track-record-setting performance. Then most recently, Bogue Chitto was a game second in the Grade 3 Nearctic going six furlongs on the grass. He had a wide trip from an outside post in that race.

Winning the Kennedy Road will not be easy, but Bogue Chitto is favorably weighted at 115 pounds and benefits from morning-line favorite Jungle Wave drawing the inside post, a poor starting position in a large field of sprinters.

Class relief benefits Lemon Chiffon

Shifting off the synthetics to the turf, Lemon Chiffon appears poised for a winning effort in the Grade 3 Cardinal Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on grass at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

After racing against such quality mares as Black Mamba and Magical Fantasy in recent starts, she should appreciate the drop into the Cardinal.

Most recently, Lemon Chiffon was fourth in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon, beaten just two lengths in one of the top filly and mare grass races of the year. And the form from the race has been validated.

The winner, Magical Fantasy, and runner-up Visit ran a close fifth and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. And third-place Black Mamba shipped to Keeneland and won the Dowager Stakes easily.

Lemon Chiffon's outside post should prove no obstacle with a long run to the first turn, and she already proved the ability to handle the Churchill course when third in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile on Derby Day.