02/06/2010 12:00AM

Now's the time to jump on American Lion


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When American Lion raced in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue on Nov. 21, he was the horse with the hype. Coming off a 6 3/4-length score Oct. 18 at Keeneland in a maiden race over Polytrack, he looked like a budding star, potentially a threat to Lookin At Lucky's reign as the top 2-year-old in California.

Despite winning the Hollywood Prevue, as he was favored to do, American Lion's shine has worn off somewhat. The reasons? He won in workmanlike fashion in the Prevue, prevailing by a half-length over a field the public expected him to dominate, and he hasn't started since.

I passed on wagering on him in the Hollywood Prevue when he was bet down to chalky 3-5 odds, but his price should be much more palatable Saturday when he returns in the Grade 2 Bob Lewis against the new hype horse of the moment, Stuka Stakes winner Tiz Chrome.

I'm keeping the faith in American Lion, knowing he is capable of more than what he showed in the Hollywood Prevue when he was all out to defeat Get My Fix and Seattle Ruler - hardly the top-ranked juveniles on the West Coast. He seemed disinterested in the Prevue, coming under an early drive on the turn, and to his credit, he ground out the win.

This is a horse that wowed me when I saw him win at Keeneland in the fall. An imposing son of Tiznow, he raced seven furlongs in a quick 1:22.22 that day with his ears pricked forward for much of the stretch run. He wasn't speed crazy, either, relaxing just off the pace and kicking home strongly while seemingly in little more than a gallop.

From both a figure and visual standpoint, the race was significantly better than his Hollywood Prevue, though obviously he faced lesser opposition at Keeneland when in the maiden ranks.

To win the Bob Lewis on Saturday, American Lion needs that same kind of effort. Three of his opponents - Macias, Tiz Chrome, and Caracortado - are stakes winners, and Tiz Chrome and Caracortado are unbeaten.

But I am willing to wager that if American Lion is on his 'A' game he will prove up to the challenge.

Evening Jewel a live longshot

Earlier on the card at Santa Anita is the Grade 1 Las Virgenes, a race in which Blind Luck is unquestionably the most likely winner. A finalist for the Eclipse Award as outstanding juvenile filly of 2009, she finished her year with a seven-length romp in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet.

If able to duplicate that effort, there will be no beating her Saturday. But at a short price, there is little return for backing her to win.

Mostly from a value standpoint, I'm intrigued by Evening Jewel, a stakes-winning California-bred who has been first or second in five straight races. Although she has never run as quickly as Blind Luck or other leading contenders in the field, she has regularly performed at a high level while showing an affinity for Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface.

Throw in the presence of the hot-riding Victor Espinoza, who has good statistics riding for Evening Jewel's trainer, Jim Cassidy, and she is a playable overlay at odds of 10-1 or higher.

Shift to dirt would aid Comedero

The feature at Fair Grounds - the 5 1/2-furlong Black Gold Stakes - offers a good betting opportunity, provided the race comes off the turf. With heavy rain pounding the New Orleans area Thursday, that appears a distinct possibility.

Under such an off-the-turf scenario, Comedero merits support. A son of Posse, he is 3 for 4, with his only loss coming when he stopped badly and faded to 11th when racing two turns in the one-mile Springboard Stakes at Remington on Dec. 13.

Allowed to regroup following that defeat, Comedero looks ready to return to form. This is a gelding who is proven over the Fair Grounds main track, perfect in three starts sprinting, and seemingly the most talented horse in the race.

If the Black Gold is moved to dirt, look for him to get a favorable trip sitting just off speedster Royal Express before taking the lead in the stretch. From there he will have to contain the rally of Grand Slam Andre, a multiple stakes winner and the morning-line favorite, but back doing what he does best - sprint - Comedero can likely do so.