01/03/2015 5:24PM

El Kabeir overcomes obstacles to win Jerome Stakes

Michael Amoruso
El Kabeir, ridden by C.C. Lopez, wins the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes by 4 3/4 lengths Saturday.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – He needed a new rider. He bobbled at the start. He was behind horses for the first time. He was wide throughout.

None of those obstacles mattered to El Kabeir, who made a solid 3-year-old debut Saturday, running away from the pacesetting tandem of Ostrolenka and Nasa in the stretch and drawing clear to a 4 3/4-length victory in the Grade 3, $200,000 Jerome Stakes in a chilled rain at Aqueduct.

Nasa, who altered course in the stretch, finished second by 7 3/4 lengths over a late-running General Bellamy. He was followed by Ackeret, Ostrolenka, Mini Cosmo, Now We Are Free, and Royal Burgh. Tencendur, a maiden, was scratched.

The win was the third from five starts for El Kabeir, a son of Scat Daddy who added the Jerome to his head victory in November’s Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. In the Jerome, he earned 10 qualifying points to the May 2 Kentucky Derby, giving him 21 points overall. In the two years since Churchill Downs instituted the points system to determine the Derby’s 20-horse field, 21 points has been enough to qualify.

“It’s a long way, but as long as he stays healthy, we got a runner here,” John Terranova, the trainer of El Kabeir, said. “Let’s hope we continue on this path.”

C.C. Lopez rode El Kabeir, named Saturday morning to replace Calvin Borel, who took off to be with family after his sister-in-law, Debby Borel, died earlier in the week.

Lopez, a terrific front-end rider, seemed like a logical fit for the front-running El Kabeir. But breaking from the outside post in the eight-horse Jerome, El Kabeir broke so quickly that he bobbled a stride or two away from the gate.

Lopez didn’t panic and let El Kabeir gather himself despite having to be four wide entering the first turn.

“It looked like he tried to beat the gate,” Terranova said. “Being on the outside, maybe he kind of overreached a little bit. He’s so athletic, he got his feet back underneath him quickly.”

Lopez was content to let El Kabeir get into stride as he stalked Ostrolenka and Nasa while three wide down the backside. The opening half-mile went in 48.47 seconds on a slow track that tightened up slightly thanks to the rain.

El Kabeir drew on even terms approaching the quarter pole, and turning for home, he started to take control. He veered in under one right-handed smack from Lopez, causing Kendrick Carmouche to come off the rail on Nasa, but El Kabeir was then vigorously hand-ridden to the wire.

El Kabeir, owned by Zayat Stables, covered the mile and 70 yards in 1:44.69 and returned $4.90 as the favorite. Though not a spectacular final time, it was 2.75 seconds faster than the only other race run at a mile and 70 yards on Saturday's program.

“It seemed like I had a lot of horse,” Lopez said. “It’s been a little while since I’ve been on something like that. He ran away from the other ones.”

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

Terranova liked how El Kabeir reacted to not being on the lead, as he had been in his two prior wins.

“It was nice seeing him sit off horses for the first time. I was kind of curious about that,” he said. “I didn’t know if that scenario played out how he’d react. This time, certainly it worked out.

“That’s what we’d been seeing in the mornings,” Terranova said. “His maturity level, he’s gotten a lot more focused, doing everything a little bit better, doing things a little more productive in his training.”

Terranova said he would talk with Ahmed and Justin Zayat and map out a plan to get to the Kentucky Derby. Terranova said he would have no problem staying in New York and running in either the Withers on Feb. 7 and/or the Gotham on March 7 before trying the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on April 4.

“I love having horses here in New York,” said Terranova, whose main string is at Belmont but who also has a few horses at Tampa Bay Downs. “He’s thriving, and he’s got a great foundation under him now. It’s not like we have to hammer on him now – take it nice and steady from here.”