Though a final decision has yet to be made, M M G Stables' multiple grade 3 winner El Areeb is likely to take his next steps along the Triple Crown trail in the $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) April 8 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Laurel Park-based trainer Cal Lynch said the Wood and the $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G2), also at 1 1/8 miles at Keeneland the same day, are the two races being considered for El Areeb. The Exchange Rate colt returned to the work tab March 17 at Laurel for the first time since his third-place finish in the Gotham Stakes (G3) March 4.
El Areeb ranks seventh on the Road to the Kentucky Derby (G1) leaderboard, with 30 qualifying points.
"The Wood looks like the option, but I've still got to talk to the owners and he's got to work another time or two before we're satisfied that he's good to go," Lynch said. "He's got enough points now that if they want to just wait and go there we can do that, but the Wood would be the logical spot."
With Lynch's son and assistant, Charlie, aboard and going in company with multiple stakes-winning 4-year-old filly Winter, El Areeb had a steady one-mile gallop before posting a timed half-mile in :51 2/5 over Laurel's fast main track.
Winter, on a three-race win streak including back-to-back stakes victories in the Nellie Morse and Maryland Racing Media this year at Laurel, was given the same final time. She will run next in the Top Flight Invitational Handicap (G3) April 2 at Aqueduct.
"We two-minute licked him a mile and then finished up the last half-mile, and he did everything right. We were very pleased with him and Winter, as well," Lynch said. "We just wanted to put a little bit more pressure on him and start to make him get a little bit more out of his works. That was his first work since he ran so it was just an easy work today. We put him in company to keep his attention a little bit. Maybe we got a little soft with him and were trying to baby him a little bit, and that's not what got him here."
El Areeb reeled off four straight wins, including the James F. Lewis III in November at Laurel and the Jerome (G3) and Withers (G3) this year at Aqueduct, prior to the Gotham, where he set a demanding pace before tiring to third, beaten 11 lengths by J Boys Echo.
"(Jockey) Trevor (McCarthy) and I have talked about it a few times, but :23 and :47 (through the first half-mile) on a track where everything else was :49 and :50 all day long—that's just a lot to ask for a young horse that's still relatively inexperienced," Lynch said. "He'll come forward for the race and lives to fight another day. He came back good and that's all that matters."
Lynch said he plans to give El Areeb two more works, tentatively scheduled for March 23 and March 29 at Laurel.