01/16/2017 4:04PM

Road to the 2017 Derby: Jerome Stakes

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Chelsea Durand/NYRA
El Areeb cruises to victory under Trevor McCarthy in the Jerome.

Grade 3, $150,000 Jerome; 1 mile and 70 yards; Aqueduct; Jan. 2, 2017
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: El Areeb, by Exchange Rate
Trainer: Cathal Lynch
Jockey: Trevor McCarthy
Owner: M M G Stables LLC
Beyer Speed Figure: 91

EL AREEB crushed his rivals in this, his first try around two turns. There certainly will be questions owing to the muddy, sealed nature of the track and his suspect competition, but of the three races on the card at the distance on the day, his time was the best by more than 2.5 seconds.

El Areeb broke maybe half a step slowly but quickly got in gear and took up a stalking position just outside of TAKAFUL into the first turn. He stayed on Takaful’s hip down the backstretch, took the lead when Takaful began his sudden fade, was ridden very aggressively in upper stretch while drawing clear, and never was threatened. He ran well, but no one else did.

BONUS POINTS, who rallied for second, bobbled slightly leaving the gate, saved ground around the first turn while racing toward the rear, dropped back to last down the backstretch, had to wait while in traffic three furlongs out, split horses a quarter-mile out while rallying, but was never within hailing distance of the winner 

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TRUE TIMBER, who finished third, settled into a good spot into the first turn in fourth, toward the rail. He remained inside all the way until turning into the lane, at which point he only had to go around Takaful, and he went evenly to the wire while unable to outfinish Bonus Points for the place. This was his third start, and first around two turns. He’s bred to do better as he gets older, so he has a right to improve.

WIN WITH PRIDE, who was fourth, went into the first turn in third, three paths wide, just behind the two leaders. He sat in that ideal spot down the backstretch, could not keep up with El Areeb when asked to advance three furlongs out, drifted in under right-handed pressure in upper stretch, switched leads a sixteenth out, and could not outfinish Bonus Points or True Timber.

EVERYBODYLUVSRUDY, who was fifth, trailed into the first turn, was asked to advance outside horses while three wide around the first turn and into the backstretch, remained wide down the backstretch and was four paths wide around the far turn, drifted in through the lane, and lost ground to the top four. He might be best as a late-closing sprinter.

THE WALK, who was sixth, broke sharply but was rated and wound up three paths wide into the first turn. He continued to be rated while mid-pack down the backstretch, was outrun around the far turn while dropping back to last, and only passed Takaful late while well back. He was exiting sprints, in which he had stalking speed, so the decision to rate him in his two-turn debut was odd.

Takaful, who finished last of seven, broke a half-step slowly but quickly got in gear and made the top into the first turn while racing inside of El Areeb. He maintained the advantage into the far turn, but offered no response when challenged by El Areeb, readily faded, and was not persevered with late. He has regressed in two starts since a dazzling debut win in October.