01/02/2017 6:38PM

El Areeb earns 10 Kentucky Derby points with Jerome win

Chelsea Durand/NYRA
El Areeb wins the Jerome Stakes by 11 1/4 lengths on Monday at Aqueduct.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Cal Lynch believes El Areeb could be the best horse he’s trained in a 20-year career and, after the colt’s performance in Monday’s Grade 3, $150,000 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, it’s hard to argue with him.

What looked like a two-horse race on paper became a one-horse race at the three-eighths pole as El Areeb, under Trevor McCarthy, ran by the pace-setting even-money favorite Takaful and galloped to an 11 1/4-length victory in the Jerome, the first of four races on this circuit that offer qualifying points to 3-year-olds hoping to make the May 6 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

El Areeb earned 10 qualifying points with the win, his third consecutive victory and his first in a race run around two turns.  Bonus Points rallied from last to finish second, a half-length in front of True Timber. He was followed, in order, by Win With Pride, Everybodyluvsrudy, The Walk and Takaful, who was eased in the final sixteenth.

Jose Ortiz, the jockey on Takaful, said his horse “was empty” at the three-eighths pole, but came back sound and did not make any noise that would indicate a potential breathing problem.

El Areeb had no problems with either two turns or an inner track that had become muddy and was sealed by track maintenance earlier in the day to constant light-to-moderate rain.

El Areeb, a son of Exchange Rate who brought $340,000 at the OBS March sale in 2016, had won his two previous starts - both sprints - in front-running fashion. But both Lynch and McCarthy were confident El Areeb could sit off another horse.

Takaful, coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Remsen, set the pace, running an opening quarter in 23.28 seconds and a half-mile in 48.11, with El Areeb about a length behind and to his outside.

Entering the far turn, McCarthy sent El Areeb after Takaful and, leaving the three-eighths pole, El Areeb began to open up a clear margin. McCarthy kept busy on El Areeb until inside the sixteenth pole, when he went to a less-rigorous hand ride.

McCarthy said El Areeb has had a tendency to look around in previous races when he’s had a clear advantage, but on Monday “he seemed to know what his business was and kept going,” McCarthy said.

El Areeb, owned by Mohammed Al-Gadhi’s M M G Stables, covered the mile and 70 yards in 1:46.17 and returned $7.60 as the second choice. The final time does not reflect the slow nature of the track, but it was the fastest by 2.51 seconds of three races run at the distance on the card.

“First time around two turns, so he’s entitled to get a little tired and that track is very tiring,” Lynch said. “They went the first quarter in 23-and-change and he was a half-length off the lead, I was a little concerned to tell you the truth. He proved he’s a classy horse. He did everything right, I can’t ask for any better.”

Takaful, a dynamic debut winner at Belmont in October and third in the Remsen, had no answer when El Areeb came to him. Ortiz said his horse relaxed nicely on the lead, but when “we hit the three-eighths pole I knew I was empty.”

El Areeb was scheduled to van back to Laurel on Monday night. Lynch said he would evaluate the horse, talk to the owner and advisors, which include Glenn Brock and Wilson Jefferson, before deciding on a next start. Lynch said the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers here Feb. 4 or the Grade 3, $350,000 Gotham here March 4 are likely.