02/08/2017 12:42PM

Road to the Derby: Withers Stakes analysis

Michael Amuroso
The 3-year-old El Areeb wins his fourth straight race, this time by 4 1/4 lengths under Trevor McCarthy, in the Withers.

Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Aqueduct, Feb. 4, 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: 92

 EL AREEB roared to his fourth straight victory and his second in two tries going two turns, both of those races at Aqueduct. The Withers followed his runaway win in the Jerome five weeks earlier. He has contending speed, and finishes off his races with authority, qualities you want in a Derby prospect.

 In this race, El Areeb broke sharply and then was rated by McCarthy into the first turn in third, three paths wide. He stayed in that spot into the far turn, collared TRUE TIMBER heading into the lane, and was ridden out to the wire for a convincing win.

 True Timber, who finished second, stumbled badly leaving the gate. He then rushed up from his inside draw to take the lead, a cause helped by the slow pace of 24.29 seconds for the quarter-mile and a pokey 49.31 to the half. He led into the lane before being overhauled by El Areeb, and while he was no match for the winner he did hold the place in a game try considering the first step of this journey.

:: Enjoy news and analysis from DRF? Get handicapping analysis, real-time coverage, special reports, and charts. Unlock access with DRF Plus.

 J BOYS ECHO went into the first turn three to four paths wide, just behind El Areeb. He was forced to race wide the rest of the way, and went around the far turn in the No. 4 path while lapped on El Areeb. He could not go with the winner coming off the final bend, but kept to his task to finish third while swapping over to his wrong lead in deep stretch. This was his first start of the year, so he has a right to move forward next time.

 BONUS POINTS, who was fourth, raced between rivals while just behind the leaders into the first turn. He stayed in that spot down the backstretch and around the far turn, had to briefly wait in traffic a quarter-mile out, and then went evenly through the lane.

 APARTFROMTHECROWD, who was fifth, had to check off the heels of JAIME’S ANGEL shortly after the start,  and then took up an ideal, ground-saving position behind True Timber. He was just a neck behind El Areeb with three furlongs go while continuing to hug the rail, but could not keep up when asked, a fairly disappointing outcome considering his sweet trip.

 SQUARE SHOOTER, who finished sixth, had an adventurous trip. He broke slowly, was caught four paths wide into the first turn while towards the rear, never could get over down the backstretch, wound up five paths wide on the far turn while making a bit of a rally, and then emptied out in his first try around two turns. He’s a cut below these, but should watched next time on the turn-back, and for that reason he has been added to my Stable Mail alert list.

 FILLET OF SOLE, who was seventh, was bumped by ALWAYS A SUSPECT leaving the gate, was guided toward the rail into the first turn while towards the back of the pack, followed Apartfromthecrowd into the far turn while remaining inside but was outrun.

 SMALL BEAR, who finished eighth, was three paths wide while at the back of the pack into the first turn, came under an aggressive ride three furlongs out while still three wide but could not keep up.

 Always a Suspect, who was ninth, bumped into Fillet of Sole leaving the gate and had to be checked, got rank behind rivals and had to be checked again into the first turn, wound up last into the backstretch, tried to rally between rivals while three paths wide on the far turn, but made no impact. This was his first try around two turns, and he had been on or near the lead in three starts since adding blinkers, so the tactics in this race – perhaps impacted by the start – were curious, especially considering how soft the pace came up.

 Jaime’s Angel, who finished last of 10, broke best of all and then conceded the lead to True Timber into the first turn. He was lapped on True Timber down the backstretch and into the far turn, but was done before reaching the quarter pole and faded.