03/07/2015 7:50PM

El Kabeir flashes new style in Gotham victory

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Tom Keyser
El Kabeir wins the Gotham Stakes by 2 3/4 lengths Saturday at Aqueduct.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – El Kabeir unveiled an entirely new running style Saturday and may have run himself into the top echelon of Kentucky Derby contenders with a 2 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.

Having won a graded stakes in gate-to-wire fashion at 2 and then from just off the pace to begin his 3-year-old season, El Kabeir rallied from next to last in the 10-horse Gotham and exploded in the stretch under C.C. Lopez to win. Tiz Shea D, a supplement to the race, finished second by a head over Classy Class.

It was three-quarters of a length back to Toasting Master, who was followed in order by Tencendur, Dontbetwithbruno, Uninfluenced, Blame Jim, Combat Diver, and Lieutenant Colonel.

El Kabeir added the Gotham to stakes victories in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill and the Grade 3 Jerome here in January. He was coming off a second-place finish in the Withers last out.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

In the Withers, El Kabeir had jumped into the race after the first quarter, and a prolonged duel with Classy Class may have cost him in the end, finishing second behind Far From Over.

In his two workouts between the Withers and Gotham, El Kabeir had started well behind a workmate and showed the ability to relax and finish. That style served him well in the Gotham when Toasting Master and Blame Jim flew out of the gate and went in fractions of 23.00 seconds for the quarter and 46.63 for the opening half-mile over an inner track labeled muddy.

“He broke good, and those horses broke better and showed more gas,” said C.C. Lopez, the rider of El Kabeir. “He got quickly shuffled back going into the turn. I just tried not to panic. I ride the best horse in the race. He was much easier behind horses to throttle his speed back.”

Down the backstretch, Lopez snuck El Kabeir into contention along the inside. Around the far turn, Lopez tipped El Kabeir out four wide, and he came into the stretch in the clear and just a few lengths off the pace.

El Kabeir made an eye-catching move from the quarter pole to open up a two-length lead at the eighth pole as he shot over to the rail. Kept under a busy ride by Lopez, El Kabeir completed the 1 1/16-miles in 1:45.56 and returned $4.60 as the favorite.

Based on his perception of how the track was playing, John Terranova, the trainer of El Kabeir, came into the paddock thinking he might want Lopez to use his colt’s speed, but when he saw the early fractions, he was glad Lopez didn’t.

Still, Terranova thought, “He was still pretty far back and was taking a lot of mud, and the track had not been playing that way at all today. I had not seen any deep closers do anything.”

In the Gotham, Terranova saw El Kabeir do something he hadn’t done before, and now he’ll allow himself to start thinking about the Kentucky Derby.

“Certainly we’re getting closer as long as we stay healthy, as long as we get through our next spot,” said Terranova, who said he would like to run the horse back in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 4. “We’ll see if he continues to move forward off of this. If so, sky’s the limit.”

Tiz Shea D, in the second start of his career and first for new connections, may have earned himself a supplemental nomination to the Triple Crown, according to part-owner Adam Wachtel. Wachtel purchased Tiz Shea D off a maiden win at Parx and transferred him to Bill Mott.

“We’d love to run in the Wood Memorial. It’s our hometown,” Wachtel said. “He’s proven he’s the real deal.”