El Areeb handled two turns with aplomb early in the new year, taking the January 2 Jerome (G3) at Aqueduct by more than 11 lengths. On Saturday, the gray looks to raise his Kentucky Derby (G1) profile even more in the $250,000 Withers (G3) over 1 1/16 miles of the Big A's inner track.
The Withers, the second in a series of three preps leading up to the Wood Memorial (G2), will distribute Derby eligibility points of 10-4-2-1 to its top four finishers as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.
The Jerome, contested on a muddy track, was El Areeb's third open-lengths win in succession. The gray son of Exchange Rate romped in his two previous starts at Laurel, taking a six-furlong maiden by 8 3/4 lengths and the $100,000 James F. Lewis III, also at six furlongs, by 5 1/4 lengths.
Among the nine joining El Areeb in the Withers are Bonus Points and True Timber, who ran second and third, respectively, in the Jerome.
A pair of last-out maiden winners from leading barns are not out of place in this field. Chad Brown will saddle Apartfromthecrowd, a four-length graduate on January 14, while Todd Pletcher sends out Fillet of Sole, who prevailed at 1-5 in a November 29 maiden at Parx, but only by a nose.
Another with Parx experience is Square Shooter, who captured his first two starts at the Philadelphia-area course last fall for Fair Hill-based conditioner Michael Lerman. The Withers marks the Trappe Shot colt's first start beyond seven furlongs.
J Boys Echo, from the barn of Dale Romans, graduated at Keeneland by 5 1/2 lengths in October, but was only a distant fourth in the Delta Downs Jackpot (G3) in his stakes debut. J Boys Echo will break from post 10 in his sophomore debut.
(Adam Coglianese Photography)