Updated on 03/03/2017 5:33PM

El Areeb too sharp to sit out Gotham Stakes

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Michael Amuroso
El Areeb would secure enough points to make the Kentucky Derby field with a top-two finish in the Gotham.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The oft-uttered phrase “he’s doing well” is basically viewed as trainer-speak. But consider this: El Areeb is racing this weekend because he is doing well, while other top 3-year-olds such as Classic Empire and McCraken are not racing this month because, quite simply, they aren’t doing as well.

Trainer Cal Lynch said he’s been looking for a reason to keep El Areeb in the barn this month, as he originally planned. But the horse continues to eat everything, continues to attack his groom when he walks by the stall, and, according to Lynch, “was bucking and squealing and jumping around [Thursday] morning after galloping a mile and three-quarters.”

In other words, he’s doing well enough to run in Saturday’s Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

“If he wasn’t, we wouldn’t be going there,” Lynch said from his base at Laurel Park.

El Areeb, the handy winner of the Jerome and Withers – both Grade 3 events over Aqueduct’s inner track – can secure his spot in the May 6 Kentucky Derby with a first- or second-place finish in the Gotham. The Gotham, run at 1 1/16 miles, offers 85 qualifying points (50-20-10-5) to its top four finishers toward the Derby under a system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field in case more than 20 horses enter the race. El Areeb currently has 20 points.

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El Areeb, a gray son of Exchange Rate, has won four consecutive races by a combined 29 1/2 lengths. Those who question his legitimacy as a top Kentucky Derby prospect can point to the fact that of the 15 rivals he’s beaten in his two graded wins in New York, none has won a stakes, and 13 remain eligible for their first-level allowance condition.

Those aboard the El Areeb bandwagon can argue that he’s defeated whom he’s faced and done so with authority. Lynch makes no apologies for his horse and said he’s not hunting bigger game at the moment.

“My job is to make money and do right by the horse,” said Lynch, who trains El Areeb for Mohammed Al-Gadhi’s M M G Stables. “It’s not my fault. He’s done everything right. If he cranks out another graded stakes in New York, I’d be delighted.”

The degree of difficulty in the Gotham is slightly higher than in his previous two starts. Among El Areeb’s nine rivals are So Conflated, the winner of the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields for the connections of 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, and Action Everyday, who is 2 for 2 and trained by Todd Pletcher. True Timber and J Boys Echo, second and third behind El Areeb in the Withers, also are back.

Though 10 were entered in the Gotham, the maiden Glennrichment will scratch to run in a maiden race on Sunday.

One thing to like about El Areeb is his versatility. In the Jerome, he pressed the pace, made the lead at the three-eighths pole, and cruised to an 11 1/4-length victory in the mud. In the Withers, run over a fast track, he stalked from third before making the lead in upper stretch.

The Gotham appears to be void of true speed. Lynch said he told jockey Trevor McCarthy: “If he wants to go to the lead, he can go to the lead. It’ll be up to Trevor. That’s why he gets paid.”

KEY CONTENDERS

El Areeb, by Exchange Rate

Last 3 Beyers: 92-91-94

◗ He was quite impressive in winning the Withers, rating kindly while three wide before being asked for run by McCarthy, who slapped the colt a few times on the shoulder but did not go vigorously to the whip.

◗ He has continued to train sharply, which is why was entered after his connections thought about skipping this spot.

◗ Versatile running style gives him another advantage in a race where the pace is not readily apparent.

J Boys Echo, by Mineshaft

Last 3 Beyers: 84-70-75

◗ Raced four wide throughout when finishing third in the Withers, his first start since November. Breaks from the rail on Saturday.

◗ At 2, he won his second start impressively going 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland.

“He’s going in the right direction,” trainer Dale Romans said.

Action Everyday, by The Factor

Beyers: 76-82

◗ He has gone 2 for 2 this winter at Tampa Bay Downs but was a little unprofessional in his allowance win, so Pletcher is adding blinkers.

“He’s got to step up,” Pletcher said. “He’s been training well, has been training with some horses that have run well. I felt like we need to find out where he fits.”

So Conflated, by Eskendereya

Last 3 Beyers: 81-72-79

◗ Was stuck behind horses before maneuvering out of traffic to close well and win the California Derby over Golden Gate’s synthetic surface.

◗ Scratched out of the Risen Star last Saturday at Fair Grounds after drawing post 14.

A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to the California Derby as a Grade 3 race. The race is ungraded.