M M G Stables' sophomore sensation El Areeb continues to train forwardly at his Laurel Park base after stamping himself a legitimate 3-year-old prospect with his 11 1/4-length romp in the Jerome (G3) Jan. 2 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trainer Cathal Lynch said El Areeb will return to the work tab this weekend (Jan. 13 or 14) for the first time since the race. Lynch's son and assistant, Charlie, will be in the irons.
"He's going to work Friday or Saturday morning. We're just watching the weather. If it's going to be bad Friday night then we'll work in the morning and if not we'll try on Saturday. He'll go an easy two-minute lick and then finish up with a little half-mile," Lynch said. "He's doing great. We're delighted with him. Fingers crossed, it's all good."
In his graded stakes debut, the one-mile, 70-yard Jerome was the third consecutive victory for the gray or roan Exchange Rate colt. He won the six-furlong James F. Lewis III Stakes Nov. 19 at Laurel in his previous start.
Trevor McCarthy, Maryland's leading rider by wins for 2016, was aboard El Areeb in the Jerome. They broke and settled behind favorite Takaful through an opening half-mile in 48.11 seconds before taking command with three furlongs left, clearing their rivals down the stretch to win in 1:46.17.
"He had been working really well and we expected him to run well. He definitely exceeded expectations, but we weren't shocked," Lynch said. "We were shocked that he won by that far, don't get me wrong, but not shocked that he ran so well."
Lynch said El Areeb would continue to be pointed to Aqueduct's series of stakes for 3-year-olds starting with the Withers (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 4. The Gotham (G3), also at 1 1/16 miles, is March 4 and the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial (G2) is set for April 8.
"We wouldn't do all three, but we might do two out of the three. It depends on how he comes back," he said. "The Withers we'll probably do next because there's Derby points, but I have to speak with the owners. I spoke to them the other day and we're going back and forth but it looks like the Withers is next if everything is right, as long as the weather stays good and he keeps training well."
Out of theA.P. Indy mare Feathered Diamond, El Areeb was purchased for $340,000 as a 2-year-old in training last March. He went to the sidelines after running fourth in his June debut at Parx Racing, returning to run second in a maiden event Sept. 30 at Laurel where he broke his maiden by 8 3/4 lengths Oct. 15.
"He's one that's impressed us since we got him in March. He was one of the first 2-year-olds that we ran when he bucked shins at Parx. He ran a little disappointing that day but he had a legitimate excuse," Lynch said. "The owners are very patient so we took our time and brought him back.
"He had kind of a rough trip (in his second start). It was supposed to be on the turf that day and he drew way outside and had a very, very wide trip but ran on very well and finished second," he added. "From that race to the next two he just kind of put everything together. We're in awe of him most days. He's just a lovely horse."
El Areeb, which means 'helpful' or 'skillful' in Arabic, won the Lewis by 5 1/4 lengths in front-running fashion similar to his maiden triumph. The Jerome was his first try around two turns.
"It's very exciting. It's the reason we get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to go to work. These are the kinds of horses you want to train and these are the ones you look for. I feel very blessed and very lucky and thank God every day for him," Lynch said. "They all have to stay together, stay sound and you have to get lucky. You have to absolutely get lucky. He's as special a horse as I've trained in 22 years."
Among his other promising 3-year-olds, Lynch said both Undulated, also owned by M M G, and Two Charley's emerged well from the seven-furlong Marylander Dec. 31 at Laurel where they ran third and fourth, respectively, behind impressive favorite Irish War Cry.
The Marylander was the dirt debut for Undulated, who broke his maiden and ran second in the Laurel Futurity on turf and won the Swynford Stakes over the all-weather surface Nov.27 at Woodbine. Charles Biggs' Two Charley's ran second to El Areeb in the Lewis.
"Undulated we're going to give a little vacation and he'll probably come back in the spring and summer. We thought he was turf and Poly and we just gave him a shot," Lynch said. "We ran him at home and figured we'd try him on the dirt and make sure we were right and we were right, unfortunately. We just think he's a better turf horse. He ran third in the stake; it's not like he did terrible. By his standards we're looking for him to be a nice stake horse and we're looking forward to a good 3-year-old year with him.
"Two Charley's, he's still got his a-other-than condition and there's a couple other stakes here going forward," he added. "I don't think he'll run into Irish War Cry too often. Those kinds of horses are very useful and we're looking forward to a good 3-year-old year with a bunch of these guys."