Add the $1 million Florida Derby (G1) April 1 at Gulfstream Park to the list of Triple Crown preps being considered for M M G Stables' impressive 3-year-old El Areeb, a winner of his past four races including back-to-back graded stakes.
Laurel Park-based trainer Cal Lynch said the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby is among the races on the radar for El Areeb along with the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) April 8 at Keeneland and either the Gotham Stakes (G3) March 4 or Wood Memorial (G2) April 8 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
El Areeb is unbeaten thus far as a 3-year-old, having won the Jerome Stakes (G3) Jan. 2 and Withers Stakes (G3) Feb. 4 over Aqueduct's inner track.
"The horse is doing great. We're very, very pleased. He's probably going to work Friday or Saturday. We're looking to do a little something because he's tearing the barn down," Lynch said. "We've been going back and forth about the Gotham; that's still up in the air. I'm leaning toward waiting for the Wood or the Blue Grass or the Florida Derby, which was thrown into the mix the other day.
"(It'll be) one of those preps," he added. "We'll give him a chance. He's going to have to step up and prove that that's where he belongs, but he's doing everything right and we're happy with him."
Lynch noted the Florida Derby came into play because of the timing and its history of runners who went on to success in the Triple Crown. In its first 65 runnings, 43 starters have gone on to win a remarkable 58 Triple Crown events, 23 of them coming in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), including Nyquist last year.
"We'll look at where everyone else is settling down and where they're all looking to go. With all the good horses, you're going to run into them at some point," he said. "The Florida Derby has been a great prep for the Derby. Nyquist came in from California last year and took that route and it proved very successful.
"So many things go into play. We'll finalize our plans but the horse will dictate everything," he added. "That's always been our way. It's the horse first; whatever's best for the horse. We're not taking anything for granted. We're just keeping our options open right now. The owners and I will sit down when it gets closer to the time and make a final decision."
Purchased for $340,000 out of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s auction of 2-year-olds in training last March, El Areeb broke his maiden on his third try last fall at Laurel. The gray or roan Exchange Rate colt won Laurel's James F. Lewis III Stakes in his subsequent start in November before wins in New York.