In his best start to date, El Areeb overwhelmed six other 3-year-olds in the one-mile and 70-yard Jerome to score an 11 1/4-length victory. The effort marked a successful graded stakes debut for M M G Stables' El Areeb, who is trained by Cathal Lynch. The effort matched what Lynch has been seeing in the mornings.
"We've been training this horse since the March sale and he's just been getting better and better," said Lynch, who said El Areeb twice went 1 1/8 miles in mornings at Laurel in 1:55. "We have a lot of 2-year-olds, maybe 20, 22 each year, and he's probably the best horse I've trained in 20 years. I think today he's proved he's a legit contender."
With regular rider Trevor McCarthy aboard, El Areeb tracked Shadwell Stable's even-money favorite Takaful through a quarter-mile in :23.28 and a half-mile in :48.11, where those two opened up on the field. While Takaful looked comfortable on the lead, he had no answer when McCarthy and El Areeb launched their challenge midway through the far turn.
El Areeb quickly opened a clear advantage over Takaful, who would fade in the stretch to finish last of seven. El Areeb opened 2 1/2 lengths on the field through six furlongs in 1:14.39 and opened up 10 lengths through a mile in 1:41.63. El Areeb only added to that advantage late as he skipped home in 1:46.17 on the muddy and sealed track for his third straight win.
"We were hoping that [Takaful] went, and we could just stalk and lay the pressure on him. That's how it ended up," McCarthy said. "He's been fit. Cathal [Lynch] has done a great job with him and the owners [M M G Stables] have had so many good horses, I've been fortunate to have the opportunity to ride for them and win some good races for them. It was a big deal today and a big performance by him that we were expecting."
While El Areeb would take three starts to earn his first career victory, the gray or roan 3-year-old has figured things out. He scored a front-running, 8 3/4-length victory in a maiden special weight test at six furlongs Oct. 15 at Laurel Park before taking the James F. Lewis III Stakes there Nov. 19 by 5 1/4 lengths on the front end, also at six furlongs.
"We've been working him two turns in the morning ... he really seems to finish and like the two turns, so hopefully it goes forward like that," McCarthy said. "We've worked him on dead tracks and fast tracks, and it seems like he gets over on anything. He can run on broken glass. Anything you ask him to do, he'll do for you. It's super exciting for the whole barn."
The colt's 2017 debut would prove his most impressive effort to date as he rated just off the early pace set by Takaful and Jose Ortiz and responded impressively in the far turn. He has won his past three starts by a combined 25 1/4 lengths.
"He's a fast horse but he can carry his speed," Lynch said. "We've worked him long and we expected him to go long sooner; we just didn't get the opportunity. The races at Laurel come up three-quarters and that's our home track.
"We've [sat him off horses] in the morning. We've worked three or four babies and he's had no problem sitting behind. He can rate. He's shown a lot of speed the last two times and everyone thought he had to be on the lead, but he's ratable. [A wet track] is still not his preference. He's just a good horse. Good horses run through their class."
While the winner would not be threatened in the stretch, Three Diamonds Farm's Bonus Points rallied to claim second. The Majestic Warrior colt earned a third straight stakes placing and his first graded stakes placing. Calumet Farm's True Timber, making his stakes debut off a clear maiden win Dec. 10 at Aqueduct, finished a half-length behind the runner-up in third. Win With Pride would finish fourth.
The Jerome is a Road to the Kentucky Derby points race, awarding 10 points to the winner, four to second, two to third, and one to fourth. The points are used to determine the field should more than 20 horses be entered in the 1 1/4-mile classic.
El Areeb twice sold at public auction before his racing debut. He most recently was purchased for $340,000 by current owner M M G Stables at the 2016 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's March sale of 2-year-olds in training, where he was consigned by Eisaman Equine, agent. Eisaman Equine landed El Areeb for $100,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale where he was consigned by Lane's End.
El Areeb is the first stakes winner for the winning A.P. Indy mare Feathered Diamond. While El Areeb is Feathered Diamond's first stakes winner, all four of her starters are winners.