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Trevor McCarthy celebrates aboard El Areeb after the 2017 Withers Stakes
The highlight race at Aqueduct on Saturday was the $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3), a 1 1/16 mile inner track contest for 3-year-olds and a points-scoring event in the Road to the Kentucky Derby. A field of ten went to post under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 30's. El Areeb was sent off as the 1-2 favorite, winner of three straight including the James F. Lewis at Laurel and then the Jerome (G3) at Aqueduct last out. In to challenge him included 7-2 second choice Apartfromthecrowd, a maiden winner by 4 lengths at third asking, and 7-1 third choice J Boys Echo, 4th in the Delta Downs Jackpot (G3).
El Areeb leads down the stretch in the Withers Stakes
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 4 El Areeb McCarthy 9.50 4.20 5.30 1 True Timber Carmouche 6.00 7.90 10 J Boys Echo Albarado 8.60 Winning Time: 1:44.47 $2 Exacta 4-1 37.00 $2 Trifecta 4-1-10 163.50 $2 Superfecta 4-1-10-5 751.00
Left: El Areeb in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Cathal Lynch said, "I thought it did it a little easier today. I know he didn't win by as far but Trevor tapped him once on the neck, he said, just to keep his attention. He's shown maturity there, when he sat behind those guys. He's just a lovely horse. To be fair to the horse, he's done everything asked of him and then some. If he keeps doing this, I'll talk to the owners, and we'll sit down and talk about where we'll go next, probably the Wood. I don't know if we'd go to the Gotham or not, I'm not sure yet, but that'll be the discussion we'll have. We'll see how he comes back the next few days and make a decision."
Right: El Areeb heads back to the barn. Lynch added, "He's run every time. He made his 6th start today, he's got a good enough foundation there. He's got another 10 (Road to the Derby) points from today. If we're going to take a shot at these other three things (the Triple Crown), it'd probably be nice to have a little break before we do. I won't even say it, I'm a little superstitious."
Left: El Areeb in the paddock before the race. Winning jockey Trevor McCarthy said, "I stalked him and let him get relaxed. I kind of stayed out of his way today. I got him to relax, settle and sit three-wide, and then I pushed the button on him and he accelerated."
Right: El Areeb runs in second first time by. McCarthy added, "He didn't prefer the surface in the Jerome. Today, I felt a different horse underneath me. He had a bigger stride and was really running at the end. Cal (Lynch) and his two boys have done a great job with him, so I give them all the credit. He seemed to keep going and galloped out super for me. He seems like a horse who can do whatever he wants."
Left: Second place finisher True Timber heads out for the post parade. Jockey Kendrick Carmouche said, "It was a good effort. I thought he'd move up going two turns again and without being slapped with dirt in the face like last time. Today, he broke a little bad but he still put me where I wanted to be. He had everything his way and he did keep running at the end, which is really good. (El Areeb) is a pretty nice horse. I like the way (True Timber) ran. Extra distance wouldn't matter with him. The more Kiaran (McLaughlin, trainer) will get him to run, the better he's going to get with stretching his legs."
Right: Third place finisher J Boys Echo returns after the race. The 7-1 third choice raced in 6th early 3 1/2 lengths off the pace under Robby Albarado, then passed tired horses to get third beatem 4 3/4 lengths. The Dale Romans trainee improved his record to 1 win, 1 second, and 1 third in 4 starts, earning $119,600 for owner Albaugh Family Stable.