02/04/2017 6:44PM

El Areeb equally effective on fast track in Withers

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Michael Amuroso
The 3-year-old El Areeb wins his fourth straight race, this time by 4 1/4 lengths under Trevor McCarthy, in the Withers.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - As well as El Areeb performed on a wet surface dominating the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes by 11 1/4 lengths at Aqueduct last month, his connections believe the 3-year-old is better on a dry surface.

El Areeb certainly gave credence to that theory Saturday with another strong performance, taking over from True Timber in upper stretch and drawing off to a 4 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes at chilly Aqueduct. True Timber, who set the pace after stumbling badly at the start, held second by a half-length over J Boys Echo.

Bonus Points, second to El Areeb in the Jerome, finished fourth and was followed by Apartfromthecrowd, Square Shooter, Fillet of Sole, Small Bear, Always a Suspect,  and Jaime’s Angel.

The win was the fourth straight for El Areeb, a gray son of Exchange Rate owned by Mohammed Al-Gadhi’s M M G Stables and trained by Cal Lynch. The win also gave El Areeb 10 more qualifying points toward a potential start in the Kentucky Derby on May 6. El Areeb now has 20 points.

“He’s as effective, if not more, on a fast track,” Lynch said. “We’re very pleased.”

Added winning jockey Trevor McCarthy: “He definitely didn’t prefer the surface in the Jerome. Today, I felt a different horse underneath me. He definitely had a bigger stride and was really running at the end.”

El Areeb, who at 122 pounds was spotting four to six pounds to the field, settled into third, three wide, as he stalked True Timber and Jaime’s Angel through a quarter-mile in 24.29 seconds and a half-mile in 49.31.

Approaching the five-sixteenths pole, El Areeb moved into second as Jaime’s Angel retreated.

At the quarter pole, McCarthy started asking El Areeb for more, and with a slap on the shoulder and a vigorous hand ride, he took charge at the three-sixteenths pole. McCarthy looked underneath him three times from the eighth pole home as El Areeb glided to the wire.

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El Areeb covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.47 and returned $3.10 as the 1-2 favorite.

“I thought he did it a little easier today,” said Lynch, when asked to compare this win with the Jerome. “I know he didn’t win by as far but [McCarthy] said he tapped him once on the neck just to keep his attention. He showed maturity there, when he sat behind those guys today; just a lovely horse.”

El Areeb, who shipped in from Laurel on Friday, was scheduled to van back Saturday night. Lynch said he would likely skip the Grade 3 Gotham here on March 4 and point El Areeb to the Grade 2 Wood Memorial over Aqueduct’s main track on April 8.

Though Lynch won’t utter the words Kentucky Derby or Triple Crown - “I’m superstitious,” he said -  it’s definitely on his mind.

“I think if we’re going to take a shot at the other three things,” Lynch said, referring to the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, “this is probably the time to give him a little break before we do that.”

True Timber, third to El Areeb in the Jerome, did well to finish second after stumbling at the start. Jockey Kendrick Carmouche said had True Timber not stumbled, perhaps he could have dictated a slower pace.

“It kind of cost him a little but as soon as he got there he relaxed on his own,” Carmouche said.

J Boys Echo, in his first start since finishing fourth in the Delta Downs Jackpot last November, finished third, beaten 4 3/4 lengths, after getting a wide trip from post 10.

“Step one,” Dale Romans, trainer of J Boys Echo, said. “Ten-hole’s a little tough; he got hung wide; they all bunched up together. The winner’s for real. First start as a 3-year-old, fourth start of his life, it’s a good step forward.”