M M G Stables' El Areeb toyed with nine rivals in the $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3), summarily dismissed them down the lane, and cleared his fourth straight victory under a hand ride from jockey Trevor McCarthy Feb. 4 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The win came as expected by bettors, who sent the 3-year-old son of Exchange Rate off favored at 1-2 on the merits of his 11 1/4-length score in the Jan. 2 Jerome Stakes (G3). Three wide in the early going as 29-1 shot True Timber rushed up to show the way after stumbling at the start of the 1 1/16-mile test on the inner track, the gray colt tracked third off opening fractions of :24.29, :49.31, and 1:14.06 before taking over as the field turned for home.
"I kind of stayed out of his way today," McCarthy said. "I got him to relax, settle and sit three-wide, and then I pushed the button on him and he accelerated.
"He didn't prefer the surface in the Jerome. Today, I felt a different horse underneath me. He had a bigger stride and was really running at the end. ...He seemed to keep going and galloped out super for me. He seems like a horse who can do whatever he wants."
True Timber put in a game effort to hold second, but El Areeb easily cleared him through a 1:38.30 mile and was comfortably alone at the wire. He finished 4 1/4 lengths in front in 1:44.47 on a fast track, returning $3.10, $2.50, and $2.10. True Timber paid $13.60 and $8, while J Boys Echo closed to get third ($3.80).
El Areeb now has 20 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard.
"I thought it did it a little easier today," trainer Cathal Lynch said of the winner. "I know he didn't win by as far, but Trevor tapped him once on the neck, he said, just to keep his attention. He's shown maturity there, when he sat behind those guys. He's just a lovely horse.
"To be fair to the horse, he's done everything asked of him and then some. If he keeps doing this, I'll talk to the owners, and we'll sit down and talk about where we'll go next, probably the (grade 2) Wood (Memorial, April 8). I don't know if we'd go to the Gotham (March 4) or not, I'm not sure yet, but that'll be the discussion we'll have. We'll see how he comes back the next few days and make a decision."
El Areeb was bred in Kentucky by Dixiana Farms out of the A.P. Indy mare Feathered Diamond. He was purchased by his current connections for $340,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s March sale of 2-year-olds in training when consigned by Eisaman Equine. He improved his record to four wins and a second from six starts, with earnings of $334,200.
"He made his (sixth) start today, he's got a good enough foundation there. He's got another 10 (Road to the Kentucky Derby) points," Lynch said. "If we're going to take a shot at these other three things (the Triple Crown), it'd probably be nice to have a little break before we do."