07/08/2011 1:10PM

Hollywood Park: Long-absent American Lion tunes up for San Diego Handicap

Benoit & Associates
American Lion will use Sunday's seven-furlong allowance as a tune-up for the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – American Lion makes his first start since an 11th place finish in the 2010 Kentucky Derby in a $70,000 allowance race for sprinters at Hollywood Park on Sunday, a race that trainer Eoin Harty hopes will lead to stakes appearance at Del Mar this month.

American Lion is a two-time Grade 3 stakes winner – the Hollywood Prevue Stakes at 2 in 2009 and the Illinois Derby in April 2010. The Illinois Derby was American Lion’s final start before the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 18 3/4 lengths behind race winner Super Saver as a 20-1 shot.

Sunday’s race is over seven furlongs, and is American Lion’s first appearance in a sprint since the Prevue. Harty said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if American Lion won his comeback, and has the $200,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 30 as a goal.

“I would like to stretch him out for sure,” Harty said. “We’ll see what he does on Sunday and reassess after that. I’m sure it’s a tough race, but it’s a good place to start.”

Last summer, there were discussions about retiring American Lion for stallion duty, but owner Bill Casner opted to put the colt, by Tiznow back in training.

“I think he has unfilled potential,” Casner said. “We’re looking forward to bringing him back and seeing if maturity will make him a better horse.”

The allowance race was not intended to be Sunday’s leading race. The $77,00 Le Cle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies over a mile on turf did not draw sufficient entries, and was scrapped.

American Lion has five rivals, including Indian Firewater, winner of the San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita in January, and Golden Itiz, winner of the Affirmed Handicap here in June 2010.

Indian Firewater is one of two horses in the field trained by Bob Baffert. Indian Firewater, the likely pacesetter, finished fourth in the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap over six furlongs on May 30. Baffert also starts Red Door Drive, who was second in a seven-furlong allowance race on June 10.

Red Eye Express, winless since last July, will be a longshot.

Golden Itiz could run in the San Diego if he fares well on Sunday, trainer Ron Ellis said.

“At seven-eighths, against top horses, it’s a little short,” Ellis said. “I’m looking for improvement that will get us ready for the San Diego.”