Tough day for Midlantic Derby hopefuls

by | Mar 5, 2017 | Breaking, Racing, Regionwide, Top Stories, Triple Crown Trail

El Areeb won the G3 Withers Stakes easily in February, had no answers in the Gotham. Photo by Robert Mauhar.

Staff report

It was a tough Saturday for Midlantic horses with Derby aspirations.

In New York, Maryland-based El Areeb labored home a well-beaten third in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes, losing by 11 lengths while barely holding the show spot — a sour result for a horse who’d won four straight, including a pair of graded races at Aqueduct. Just about 90 minutes later, New Jersey-bred Irish War Cry had no answers either, his undefeated streak snapped at three after a 20-length defeat in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.

Both had gone off as the favorite in their respective races.

El Areeb entered the Gotham the 2-5 favorite after facile scores in the Jerome and Withers over the strip, the latter perhaps the more impressive of the pair despite the smaller margin of victory. Saturday morning on Off to the Races on the Racing Biz Radio Network, jockey Trevor McCarthy had said he planned to “come out running and see where [El Areeb] wants to be.”

Where he ended up was on the lead, hounded by the speedy True Timber through a half-mile in 47.70 seconds and three-quarters in 1:13.59 — solid fractions on Aqueduct’s slow-playing inner dirt track.

Tired by his early exertions, El Areeb ended up well behind winner J Boys Echo and runner-up Cloud Computing, who was 3 1/2 lengths in arrears of the winner. El Areeb finished a half-length ahead of Action Everyday for the show spot, which granted him 10 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, giving him 30, good for sixth overall.

“Pace makes the race and that’s what happened,” said El Areeb’s Laurel Park-based trainer Cal Lynch. “He ran well but you can’t go 47 [seconds for a half-mile] on this track and stay there. It set up perfect for the winner. I knew that horse [J Boys Echo] was going to run well because he ran well last time, but pace killed us today.”

What comes next for El Areeb is not yet decided, Lynch said. “There’s plenty of options. This is a nice horse and he’ll do well later on. I’m not sure, I’ll talk to the owners and decide what we’re going to do next.”

Similar questions may be in play for Irish War Cry. The son of Curlin had dazzled in his first three starts, most recently a dominant win in the Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. But Saturday, he had no answers at all en route to a seventh-place finish in the Fountain of Youth.

Sent off as the 1.10-1 favorite under Joel Rosario, Irish War Cry stalked the pace of Three Rules through a half-mile in 47.18 seconds and three-quarters in 1:12.37. But while that rival stuck with it to earn the show spot, Irish War Cry was pretty much done even before the five-sixteenths pole. He came under pressure with three furlongs to go but backed up through the lane.

Gunnevara, a horse he’d bested in the Holy Bull, scored a decisive win by nearly six lengths, with Practical Joke running into second. Three Rules held third.

“[Jockey Joel Rosario] felt he was in a good enough spot. I wish he had maybe settled a little more off the pace perhaps, but I don’t want to make excuses,” trainer Graham Motion said. “He looked like he was going pretty nicely. I can’t really say what happened, whether he bounced or not. He ran an awfully big race last time. He looks fine. My instincts and first reaction is that possibly I ran him back too quick. It’s hard to know. He’s done so well between races.”

Irish War Cry did not earn any Kentucky Derby points and remains tied for 14th, with 10.