November 27, 2020

Kentucky Derby Report January 4: El Areeb emerges with Jerome romp

El Areeb entered the January 2 Jerome (G3) with little fanfare and exited the first Kentucky Derby qualifier of the New Year as a serious player. The gray colt dominated over a muddy inner track at Aqueduct, registering a 100 BRIS Speed rating after drawing off to an 11 ¼-length decision.

Trained by Cathal Lynch, the Maryland-based El Areeb needed a few starts before breaking through with an 8 ¾-length maiden tally at Laurel Park on October 15. The son of Exchange Rate followed with a 5 ¼-length romp in the November 19 James F. Lewis, notching a 102 BRIS Speed rating in the 6-furlong event.

He continued to show more while stretching out to two turns in the one-mile and 70-yard Jerome. After leading wire to wire in the two previous wins, El Areeb tracked pacesetter Takaful in second during the opening stages and launched his bid nearing the completion of the far turn, accelerating to a clear lead by upper stretch. Regular rider Trevor McCarthy was up.

The competition remains questionable (Takaful faded to last as the even-money favorite) and it’s fair to question whether the wet track moved him up. The Jerome replaced the Count Fleet on the calendar and while early-season inner track preps are often meaningless, the race did serve as the launching pad for Smarty Jones, who strolled to a five-length decision in his first two-turn start before eventually capturing the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 2004.

It’s prudent not to get too carried away but I came away impressed by El Areeb.

Exchange Rate isn’t known producing Triple Crown types, establishing a solid reputation as a sprint/middle distance sire, but El Areeb is eligible to receive a hefty dose of stamina from his female family. Out of an A.P. Indy mare, he counts Mr. Prospector as the second damsire. Canadian champion Regal Intention, winner of the 1 ¼-mile Queens Plate, hails from El Areeb’s third maternal dam.

Lynch will point El Areeb to the February 4 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct.

Maiden winners to watch

A couple of maiden winners on New Year’s Eve could be headed straight to stakes company.

Battalion Runner did not disappoint as the odds-on favorite in a 7-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream Park, striding away to an 8 ¾-length score. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt returned from a lengthy layoff, finishing second in his debut at Belmont in early June, and the son of Unbridled’s Song registered an excellent 100 BRIS Speed rating. He’s bred to easily handle more ground.

Sheer Flattery broke through stretching out to two turns in his fourth start, scoring by a nose over a sloppy Santa Anita main track. The son of Flatter has a suspect pedigree for extended distances but is in good hands with Jerry Hollendorfer, who would love to add a Triple Crown race win to his Hall of Fame pedigree. And Sheer Flattery received a commendable 96 BRIS Speed rating.

Up Ahead

The Road to the Kentucky Derby series stops at Santa Anita Saturday for the $100,000 Sham (G3). The one-mile race has drawn a field of seven headed by Grade 1 winner Gormley, who will make his first appearance since a disappointing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1).

American Anthem will also take plenty of action following a neck score in his career debut, a 6-furlong maiden special weight on December 3. By Bodemeister, the Bob Baffert-trained colt will receive a rider switch to Mike Smith.

Kentucky Derby Top 20

  1. CLASSIC EMPIRE: Soon-to-be 2yo champ registered 108 BRIS Speed rating winning BC Juvenile; Casse targeting Feb. 4 Holy Bull
  2. MCCRAKEN: Overcame bias to win Ky Jockey Club going away; unbeaten colt 3-for-3 at Churchill Downs
  3. MASTERY: West Coast leader improved to 3-for-3 in Los Alamitos Futurity; Baffert is a 4-time Ky Derby winner
  4. MO TOWN: Not for those who believe anti-Remsen mythology but I won’t dismiss talented colt
  5. EL AREEB: Left a favorable impression winning Jerome by 11 ¼ lengths
  6. PRACTICAL JOKE: Champagne and Hopeful winner wound up a clear third in BC Juvenile
  7. NO DOZING: Solid juvenile form, expecting further improvement at age 3
  8. GUNNEVERA: Posted an eye-catching Delta Jackpot victory & confirmed closer also captured the Saratoga Special
  9. IRISH WAR CRY: Improved to 2-for-2 in recent Marylander and Curlin colt is now headed to points’ races for Motion
  10. AMERICAN ANTHEM: Well-regarded maiden winner tries stakes waters in Saturday’s Sham
  11. BEACH BUM: Arch colt missed some training time but recently returned to worktab for Baffert; looking forward to stakes bow
  12. GORMLEY: FrontRunner winner failed to fire in BC Juvenile & will try to rebound in Sham
  13. BATTALION RUNNER: Looks like a colt with a bright future if he can stay healthy
  14. LOOKIN AT LEE: Not a serious win threat at highest level but performed admirably
  15. KLIMT: Tailed off after starring at Del Mar last summer; new trainer Sherman considering Dubai route
  16. FACT FINDING: Unbeaten colt ready to try two turns following recent stakes win at Gulfstream
  17. WILD SHOT: Ky Jockey Club runner-up established himself as one to watch
  18. THREE RULES: Florida star weakened to 6th after chasing pace in BC Juvenile
  19. HEMSWORTH: Broke maiden by 9 ½-length margin in Nashua, returns in Saturday’s Mucho Macho Man
  20. J BOYS ECHO: Convincing Keeneland maiden winner exits 4th in Delta Jackpot