El Areeb was bred by William Shively’s Dixiana Farms, a name steeped in Bluegrass history.
Dixiana traces to 1877, when Maj. Barak Thomas acquired the property and rechristened it after his successful broodmare Dixie. As fine a matron as Dixie was, Thomas carved out an even greater legacy through other mares.
At Dixiana, Thomas bred the classy Himyar from his mare Hira. He named a nearby tract of land Hira Villa in her honor, and it was there that Thomas bred Himyar’s most celebrated son, Domino. Both were known for their high speed.
Sadly, Domino died as a six-year-old, after standing just two seasons at stud. His epitaph sums up his outstanding racing career:
“Here lies the fleetest runner the American Turf has ever known, and one of the gamest and most genuine of horses.”
At the time of Domino’s death in 1897, no one could have foreseen his extraordinary influence as a stallion. From only 19 surviving foals* (four of whom were geldings and thus not breeding stock), he became a building block of the American Thoroughbred. And as our bloodlines have gone global, so has Domino’s reach. You’d have to take a deep dive into obscurity to find a contemporary Thoroughbred without Domino in his ancestry; it’s much easier to find him appearing multiple times.
El Areeb is no exception to this rule. He’s also a case study in how a youngster can start out as fairly unremarkable, then blossom before your very eyes.
Dixiana manager Terry Arnold described the transformation in a February 9 interview on the “At the Races with Steve Byk” radio program.
“There was nothing really special about him as a foal or a weanling,” Arnold told Byk. “But then when late spring came [in his yearling year], and we started going through the prepping process with him, he just really loved it.”
Arnold added that’s a trait his current trainer, Cathal Lynch, has likewise observed.
“I thought it was pretty interesting when the trainer made the comment that he was a ‘gym rat,’ because that’s exactly what we saw with him at the farm. He loved to train.
“We pony some yearlings that were prepping for the sale, we put some horses on the walker that kind of had a high energy level, and he was one of those. He loved to go out there and train.”
Indeed, El Areeb (then still unnamed) enjoyed it so much that they’d “never be able to do enough with him.”
At the same time, the gray colt was beginning to fill the eye.
“Every week when you’d look at him, he’d get a little more athletic-looking, more round-looking,” Arnold said. “He just kind of came together.
“He was one of those horses that the prepping process really helped him, and he enjoyed it.”
At the 2015 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, El Areeb attracted the attention of Dr. Barry Eisaman. With his wife, Shari, Eisaman is well known for success in buying yearlings, developing them at their Williston, Florida, facility, and reselling at the two-year-olds in training sales.
The Dixiana-bred checked all the proverbial boxes. Aside from a good catalog page – his immediate pedigree including maternal relatives – were his physical and mental attributes.
“Nice and correct, good bone, attractive body, athletic looking, sane,” was how Eisaman remembered his yearling presentation.
The psychological aspect is crucial: some “yearlings act all worried about life and squirrelly” in the pressure of the sales environment, with all of the crowds, activity, and noise. If they can’t keep their composure, it’s a potential red flag about their suitability, and Eisaman won’t bid on them.
But with El Areeb passing that test too, Eisaman Equine purchased him for $100,000.
Once going through his early lessons, El Areeb continued to progress, proving to be “very athletic, very attractive, very forward,” to Eisaman, who summed up that he “seemed to have a world of potential.”
The two-year-old El Areeb flashed that potential to prospective buyers at the under tack show for the 2016 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s March Sale. As though intentionally strutting his stuff to impress, he zipped one furlong in 10 seconds.
Mohammed Al-Ghadi’s MMG Stables accordingly went to $340,000 to secure the promising colt, making him one of his late sire Exchange Rate’s most expensive sellers of 2016. His new owner bestowed the name “El Areeb,” reportedly derived from the Arabic term for “skillful.”
While El Areeb has the physical skills, it’s his frame of mind that’s taken him to a new level, according to Eisaman. Horses can have all the right physical ingredients, but unless they channel that raw ability into high performance in competition, it’s of little use on the racetrack.
“Now he’s added that instinct to make it count while he’s running,” Eisaman said. “That killer instinct to go out and perform.”
That “killer instinct” could take him a long way in the Kentucky Derby (G1), adding another chapter to Dixiana’s history.
“It’s a lot of fun and a lot of anticipation,” Arnold said in his Byk interview. “The Derby brings out feelings that you didn’t think that you might even have. When you start thinking about one that you bred that might possibly make it to the Derby, it’s a sense of accomplishment. You think back to when you were raising that horse, and how many things could have gone wrong…
“I always say that, I think the farm managers, the farm guys, it’s not the one who does the most things right that is successful over time, but the guy who does the fewest things wrong. When you’re out here raising these horses, if you can stay out of their way and let them get to where they need to go, it’s a big plus.”
*For a complete list of Domino's foals, see Abram S. Hewitt's The Great Breeders and Their Methods, p. 53.
Photos courtesy Elaine Adams/Eisaman Equine