El Areeb leaped into the Kentucky Derby conversation with a smashing victory in the January 2 Jerome (G3) at Aqueduct, rolling to an 11-length decision over a muddy inner track, and the gray colt will try to further enhance his credentials in Saturday’s $250,000 Withers (G3). The 1 1/16-mile test at Aqueduct offers points on a 10-4-2-1 scale as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
Trained by Cathal Lynch, El Areeb broke his maiden by 8 ¾ lengths when making his third start at Laurel Park on October 15. The Kentucky-bred son of Exchange Rate followed with another convincing tally in the James F. Lewis at Laurel, netting a 102 BRIS Speed rating for the 5 ¼-length decision.
The Jerome marked his first two-turn attempt and El Areeb made a seamless transition to the added ground, rallying from just off the pace to seize control by the conclusion of the far turn. He also registered a second straight triple-digit Speed figure (100).
He puts a three-race win skein on the line from post 4 against nine opponents and regular rider Trevor McCarthy has the call. El Areeb shows four workouts over a 19-day period (January 13-31) in preparation.
Jerome runner-up Bonus Points and third-placer True Timber are also back for the Withers, but El Areeb’s main competition could come from new faces.
Apartfromthecrowd will make his stakes debut for Chad Brown off a good-looking maiden tally on January 14, rallying to win going away by four lengths in a two-turn race on the inner track, and netted a respectable 93 BRIS Speed rating. The Gio Ponti colt has been favored in all three starts and receives a jockey change to Irad Ortiz Jr.
Fillet of Sole exits an odds-on maiden tally at Parx. Transferred to Todd Pletcher two starts ago, the Union Rags colt registered a 95 BRIS Speed rating last time, the second-best last-out figure in the field. The chestnut will add the services of Rajiv Maragh. Keeneland maiden winner J Boys Echo, last seen finishing fourth in the Delta Jackpot (G3), invades from his Gulfstream base for Dale Romans and Robby Albarado will be in for the mount.
After a neck second in the recent Lost in the Fog at Aqueduct, Always a Suspect will stretch out to two turns for Kiaran McLaughlin. Antonio Gallardo takes over the reins. Small Bear and Square Shooter invade off entry-level allowance/optional claiming wins at Parx. Jaime’s Angel, who crushed New York-bred maiden foes last time and is stepping up to face open rivals for the first time, completes the field.