El Areeb takes another step forward in Withers romp

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Cal Lynch might have to rethink his winter vocabulary. Last week, the trainer said he’d rather not talk about a certain race on the first Saturday in May with budding stable star El Areeb. No, Lynch would take it one race at a time with the 3-year-old.

“That’s all right for me on a Saturday night watching TV or sitting around the house and your mind gets to wandering, but that’s not something you want to think about day to day,” Lynch said. “Only 20 horses go in that gate. To get one of those, with a 40-horse barn? That’s why we do it, the dream.”

The dream got one step closer Saturday as El Areeb made off with the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct – his fourth consecutive win after opening his career with two losses. Owned by MMG Stable, the son of Exchange Rate thumped nine others in the Withers. El Areeb (Trevor McCarthy) rated in third behind True Timber and Jaime’s Angel, eased to the front coming to the quarter pole and floated away to win by 4 1/4 lengths with his ears pricked. McCarthy never turned over his whip, and had time enough to repeatedly look under his right arm for potential challengers.

There were none.

El Areeb (skillful or wise in Arabic) collected 10 more Kentucky Derby points and earned $150,000 while getting 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.47. True Timber set most of the pace and stayed for second with J Boys Echo third.

Based at Laurel Park, Lynch bought El Areeb at OBS March just shy of a year ago. The trainer had seen plenty from the colt at consignor Eisaman Equine leading up to the sale and just hoped the price would be right. Bred in Kentucky by Dixiana Farm, the son of Exchange Rate and the A.P. Indy mare Feathered Diamond cost $100,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September and was only getting more expensive as he matured.

“They gave a hundred for him so he was a nice yearling, and he just had a lovely way about him,” said Lynch. “Lovely stride, lovely way about him, good shoulder, big girth, big hip bone, he’s a striking kind of horse. I like a horse with a good eye and he’s one of them. He looks right through you.”

Saudi Arabian-based owner Mohammed Al-Gadhi gave Lynch the OK to spend what needed to be spent, and the bidding stopped at $340,000. It may turn out to be a bargain. Sent off a 7-5 in his June debut at Parx, El Areeb finished fourth. He didn’t run again until late September at Laurel, and finished second after rallying from well back. It’s been nothing but daylight wins since – by 8 3/4 lengths in a Laurel maiden Oct. 15, by 5 1/4 in the James F. Lewis Stakes Nov. 19, by 11 1/4 in the Grade 3 Jerome at Aqueduct Jan. 2. And then the Withers.

If Thursday’s conversation was any indication, Lynch will take the next steps one at a time. May can wait, for now.

“He’s an exciting prospect and a lovely horse,” the trainer said. “He’s going to be a nice 3-year-old (no matter what happens). Whether he goes in the race we won’t talk about or not doesn’t matter.”


The Rest of the Story
• Champion Classic Empire returned with a thud. The previously unbeaten-when-he-finished colt (sounds like a jumper) finished a disappointing third in the Grade 3 Lambholm South Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park Saturday, unable to stick to or close on unbeaten Irish War Cry. A New Jersey-bred son of Curlin, Irish War Cry loped on the lead and drew off to an easy 3 ¾-length win over Gunnevera, who was stopped at a key moment on the turn, and Classic Empire.

Trained by Graham Motion for breeder Isabelle de Tomaso, Irish War Cry had won twice in Maryland, upsetting a maiden sprint in November and earning a nose win in the Marylander at Laurel Park on New Year’s Eve. Motion put two breezes into Irish War Cry in January, added Lasix, tabbed Joel Rosario and hopped another stone across the Kentucky Derby rapids.

“He’s a really nice horse and I was obviously really high on him, but when you’re running against the juvenile champion, you have reservations. I was torn. I was toying with the idea of running in the Sam Davis,” Motion said. “I thought it might be a little easier race, because he’s so lightly raced. But the more I looked at it, the way he was working, I just thought we had to take a shot today.”

• Earlier on Saturday, Santa Anita showcased its 3-year-old crop with the Robert E. Lewis. The five-horse affair lacked the California stars but Royal Mo produced a solid effort to win easily for Jerry and Ann Moss and John Shirreffs. Victor Espinoza allowed the son of Uncle Mo to lope on the lead before coasting to a comfortable 3 ½-length win over Irap and Sheer Flattery.

Sent off second choice after a maiden win at Del Mar in November, Royal Mo bolstered Shirreffs’ 3-year-old division led by Sham winner Gormley. The duo will most likely split, one staying at Santa Anita and the other going to Oaklawn Park for its 3-year-old stakes.

• Todd Pletcher scratched the undefeated Fact Finding from the Holy Bull, deciding to wait for the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay Downs. Despite this defection, Pletcher wasn’t left out of weekend 3-year-old talk, winning an allowance race with Battalion Runner, who ground out a win over a game Beasley. Owned by St Elias Stable, Battalion Runner is now 2-for-3 and headed to stakes.  

NOTES: Square Shooter, the Fair Hill-based Withers starter profiled in TIHR last week, wound up sixth in the Withers and emerged with a cut to his left front leg. Though serious, the injury did not appear to affect major tendons or ligaments according to trainer Mike Lerman . . . If you’re following along with the Saturday Special, The Queen’s Bernardini homebred Forth Bridge won the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial at Musselburgh for trainer Charlie Longsdon, our nap of the day Behind Time lost at Sandown, Chad Brown won his sixth (!) consecutive Sweetest Chant with Rymska, Dee Dee and Michael Matz won the Forward Gal with Tequilita in an upset over Pretty City Dancer, Ken Ramsey won the Kitten’s Joy Stakes with a son of Kitten’s Joy named Kitten’s Cat, Hoppertunity won the Grade 2 San Antonio, Isotherm broke through to win the San Marcos, and snap an eight-race losing streak that included placings in three graded stakes, for trainer George Weaver.