El Areeb Seeking Graded Repeat in Withers
By Casey Laughter
Jerome Stakes (GIII) hero El Areeb is back for more in Saturday’s Withers Stakes (GIII) and will be taking on nine other opponents, including Bonus Points, who finished second behind El Areeb last time out.
Early favorite El Areeb is a son of Exchange Rate who is looking to extend his legs to 1 1/16 miles, but that should be no issue as in the Jerome he appeared to have plenty left in the tank. However, will he have company on the lead this time?
Apartfromthecrowd is taking on the large field and does have some speed, but he tends to sit off the pace just a bit, more in a stalking position. In his most recent start, the Chad Brown-trained son of Gio Ponti broke his maiden at Aqueduct in his third start. He could get a jump on the leaders and main contender, El Areeb, before the others.
Bonus Points has shown multiple types of running styles, including pressing the pace and also coming from well off. If Bonus Points and jockey Manny Franco start well and head toward the front of the pack, then they could get a better shot at El Areeb this time around.
Todd Pletcher sends in a son of Union Rags named Fillet of Sole. The colt broke his maiden in his fourth try, shipping into Parx and using every bit of the one-mile distance to get his job done. The colt sits off the pace in mid-pack, but can he step it up and make himself a Kentucky Derby contender?
Kiaran McLaughlin and Victory Racing Partners send in Always a Suspect, another son of Exchange Rate. The colt was recently second in the Lost In The Fog Stakes at Aqueduct, but did win a starter allowance going six furlongs. This race will be his first around two turns, however, and his pedigree does suggest he can handle it as he is out of a Deputy Minister mare.
Small Bear, a grey/roan son of Macho Uno, is being sent postward by trainer Gary Sciacca and owner August Dawn Farm. The gelding is coming in off a two-race win streak, one at one mile and the other a sixteenth farther. Out of an El Prado mare, Small Bear should likely be able to handle this distance and the step up in class. He does appear to prefer to sit just off the leaders, but does have some tactical speed to put himself up closer where he needs to be. He could be one to take it to El Areeb early, if he breaks well.
Gold Square LLC and trainer Michael Lerman send in the undefeated Square Shooter, a son of Trappe Sot. The colt has raced strictly at Parx and is shipping in to test stakes company. He is out of a Maria’s Mon mare and in his two races he has shown that he can come off the pace or take the lead early. He is likely to go early with El Areeb so the question is, can he keep up?
Finally, there is J Boys Echo. The son of Mineshaft broke his maiden at Keeneland going 1 1/16 miles. He most recently finished fourth in the Delta Downs Jackpot and the Dale Romans trainee has been working at Gulfstream consistently, but doesn’t appear to be fully cranked. The colt doesn’t have the speed many in the field do, but he is one of the few who is proven around two turns.
The Withers is historically not the most productive prep race for the Kentucky Derby, but horses have come out of the race to have phenomenal careers, including 2012 Travers Stakes (GI) winner Alpha, 2006 Preakness Stakes (GI) and leading sire winner Bernardini,and 2008 Met Mile (GI) winner Divine Park. Also, notable runners Gone West and Housebuster won this race in years past.
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