Maryland-based El Areeb headlines Withers field
El Areeb winning at Laurel Park. Photo by Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club.
From a NYRA release
Maryland-based El Areeb made short work of his rivals in the Grade 3 Jerome on January 2.
Now, the distance gets a little farther and the waters, a little deeper for the three-year-old Exchange Rate colt. New York’s road to the Triple Crown continues this Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack with a 10 horse field of 3-year-olds set to compete in the 137th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
As an official prep race for the Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs, the Withers offers the winner 10 qualifying points towards a bid in the “Run for the Roses.” An additional four points will be awarded to the second-place finisher, as well as two to third and one to fourth.
El Areeb, for M M G Stables and trainer Cathal Lynch, will headline the field by making a return to New York from Laurel Park for the first time since that January 2 romp at the Big A. El Areeb has wheeled off three consecutive victories dating back to his maiden-breaking win on October 16 and is the most accomplished runner in the field with three wins from five starts.
Even though he was impressive handling a muddy track in the one-mile Grade 3 Jerome to win by 11 ¼-lengths, Lynch said he is hoping for a drier track on Saturday, but otherwise reports El Areeb remained in top form ahead of Saturday’s race.
“His prep works heading into this race have been very good, especially yesterday,” said Lynch. “He had a really good breeze going 47 [seconds] and change and he came back good, so we’re happy with him. He wouldn’t be a big fan of the mud if it comes back again and thankfully the weather forecast looks like we’ll be in good shape for Saturday. He did handle it last time but he prefers a good to fast track. Looking back to his last stakes win at Laurel [James F. Lewis III], that was on a fast track and he relished on it.”
Passing his first test around two turns with flying colors, Lynch thinks his colt will only improve with the added distance in the Withers and even further.
“We’ve always thought he was going to be a two-turn horse and he’s just been getting better and better,” added Lynch. “Most of his works here in the morning are around two turns. We gave him a sharp work yesterday, but most of his works in the morning are around mile to a mile and an eighth to a quarter, and it seems the farther he goes the better.”
With regular rider Trevor McCarthy aboard, El Areeb will leave from post 4.
Looking to make a move forward on the Derby trail with a pair of promising runners is trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, entering Always a Suspect for Victory Racing Partners and True Timber for Calumet Farm.
Also a son of Exchange Rate, Always a Suspect has collected two victories from four starts. Most recently, in his first stakes start on January 1 at Aqueduct in the Lost in the Fog, he was just nailed at the wire after grabbing the lead in the late stretch. Previous to that race, he picked up back-to-back wins breaking his maiden in his second start on October 28 at Belmont Park and following up with an allowance win on November 24 at the Big A.
True Timber, a son of Mineshaft last out ran third to El Areeb in the Withers coming off a 1 ½ length maiden victory in his second career start on December 10 at Aqueduct.
“We’re in tough, but we want to try,” said McLaughlin. “True Timber should improve off his last run. He’s still learning and only had three races, so we’re looking forward to see some improvement. Always a Suspect, we’re trying to stretch out and see where we stand as well. He’s a nice colt but we’re in tough.
Drawing the rail, True Timber will have the services of Kendrick Carmouche in the irons. Always a Suspect will leave from post 7 with Antonio Gallardo aboard.
Making his first start of the year and shipping in from Parx trainer Michael Lerman and Gold Square LLC is Square Shooter. The son of Trappe Shot is undefeated from two starts winning his debut on November 1 and followed up with a 2 ¾ length optional claiming win on December 11.
Drawing post 9, Square Shooter will be ridden by Frankie Pennington.
Rounding out the field is Jerome runner-up Bonus Points, for Three Diamonds Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher, who will also enter Fillet of Sole for Teresa Viola Racing Stables; Apartfromthecrowd, coming off a maiden victory at Aqueduct on January 14, for trainer Chad Brown and owners William Lawrenceand Klaravich Stables; Jaime’s Angel, for trainer Richard Metivier and Youngs Stable; Small Bear, for August Dawn Farm and trainer Gary Sciacca; and J Boys Echo for Dale Romans and Albaugh Family Stable.