02/05/2017 12:54PM

El Areeb likely to skip Gotham in favor of Wood

Michael Amuroso
El Areeb won the Withers by 4 1/4 lengths on Saturday at Aqueduct.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Unless El Areeb indicates he can’t wait, trainer Cal Lynch would like to skip the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham Stakes on March 4 and point his 3-year-old colt to the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 8.

El Areeb returned to Laurel Park on Saturday night, just hours after he recorded a 4 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, putting him one step closer to a start in the Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

Lynch said El Areeb “came back great, ate up everything, was bouncing around” Sunday morning. Lynch said he planned to have El Areeb go back to the track Tuesday morning, but may move it up to Monday if need be.

Lynch said El Areeb is an energetic sort, and it could be challenging giving him nine weeks between races. He has raced five times in the last 18 weeks with no more than six weeks between starts. But, knowing the schedule could get hectic in the spring with the Wood and Kentucky Derby four weeks later, Lynch would like to give the horse a little freshening.

“Absolutely,” Lynch said. “If I had my druthers, I’d give him a little easier time between races. He’s still growing, still gaining weight. He’s not 3 until April 14, he’s still a baby, we’re trying to protect him from himself. He enjoys training, enjoys the competition. He’d be a gym rat if he was a person. He’s that way, he enjoys the training.”

El Areeb, a son of Exchange Rate, won the Jerome by 11 1/4 lengths here Jan. 2 over a sealed, muddy surface. He won the Withers by 4 1/4 lengths over a dry track. He earned a 92 Beyer for his Withers, one point higher than his Jerome figure. El Areeb is now 4 for 6 and has won his last four starts by a combined 29 1/2 lengths.

Lynch said he is very happy with the way things have gone so far and said “we won’t look to change anything” in the near future. Lynch said El Areeb would likely stay on the same work schedule - meaning he could breeze in 11 or 12 days - even if his next race isn’t until April 8.

True Timber, beaten 11 3/4 lengths by El Areeb in the Jerome, was beaten 4 1/4 lengths by him Saturday. True Timber, ridden by Kendrick Carmouche, stumbled at the break, set the early fractions and did well to hold second over J Boys Echo. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Sunday True Timber is likely to run back in the Gotham.

“He ran very well after stumbling badly, he got up and [Carmoche] had to chirp to him to get through there and get to the lead,” McLaughlin said. “Happy with his race, he keeps improving, nice colt.”

McLaughlin may also run Haul Anchor, winner of two New York-bred route stakes in his last two starts, in the Gotham.

J Boys Echo, third in the Withers after a wide trip, is scheduled to ship back to south Florida on Tuesday. Trainer Dale Romans indicated after the race that he was pleased with the effort by J Boys Echo in his first start since finishing fourth in the Delta Downs Jackpot last November. Romans said J Boys Echo could return to New York for his next race, but he would evaluate his horse and the landscape of the 3-year-old division before making any decisions.

If El Areeb does skip the Gotham, the favorite for that race figures to be Mo Town, the Grade 2 Remsen winner who is training at the Payson Park training center in Indiantown, Fla. Mo Town, a son of Uncle Mo trained by Tony Dutrow, has breezed four times in January and will likely get three or four more works in before shipping to Aqueduct.