El Areeb Early Choice in Withers


El Areeb (photo by Joe Labozzetta).

The Withers Stakes (GIII), which will be contested over Aqueduct’s inner track on Saturday, is one of the oldest stakes for 3-year-olds contested in the country. Since it was first run in 1899 and won by Jean Bereaud, some highly talented sophomores have added their names to the winners’ list, including Colin, Sir Barton, Man o’War, Count Fleet, Polynesian, Hill Prince, Native Dancer, Dr. Fager, Ack Ack, Bold Reasoning, Key to the Mint, Housebuster and Bernardini. Lately, however, the race has been a strong prep for April’s Wood Memorial Stakes (GI), but hasn’t had much of an impact on any of the Triple Crown races, unfortunately.

The New York weather is turning cold on Saturday and though the sun will be out, the highs will only reach to just above freezing. The Withers has been carded as the afternoon’s eighth with a post time of 4:20 p.m. ET.

Withers-OddsThis year, the 1 1/16-mile Withers will be worth $250,000 and a field of ten has been entered, led by runaway Jerome Stakes (GIII) winner El Areeb. The $340,000 son of Exchange Rate is Maryland-based and broke his maiden by 8 ¾ lengths in his third try at Laurel back in October. Since then, he’s racked up two more wins for trainer Cathal Lynch, including his last around two turns for the first time in the Jerome by 10 lengths, and seems to be fine with the distance. He’s been training well at his home base since his last and his connections have said they’ve barely scratched the surface on potential and talent. He’ll probably be part of the pace scenario after he and jockey Trevor McCarthy break from post position four.

Albaugh Family Stable’s J Boys Echo ships in from the warm, sunny climate of South Florida for trainer Dale Romans and will be making his first start since a fourth-place finish in the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (GIII) in November, but has been consistently on the work tab at Gulfstream Park since mid-December. He’s bred to love the distance and finds a good spot to return to graded stakes company; and while the outside post position normally wouldn’t be ideal, he’s shown he likes to close from off the pace, so jockey Robby Albarado shouldn’t have too much trouble dropping back behind the speed after the break.

True Timber will lead the post parade and the son of Mineshaft will attempt to better his distant third-place finish in the Jerome. It’s hard to say what went wrong in that race except maybe he didn’t like the sloppy going and he was also facing El Areeb, who clearly appreciated the track condition that day. But he’s been training well here in New York since. The innermost post position shouldn’t cause too much trouble for him and jockey Kendrick Carmouche, as he’s shown a preference for closing from off the pace and he also broke his maiden over this track back in early December. He’s got talent, but does he belong on the Triple Crown trail?

Apartfromthecrowd faces winners for the first time since breaking his maiden last out at a mile and 70 yards over this track for recent Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown. The Florida-bred son of Gio Ponti is bred for distance (and turf) and has all the tools to be a factor here, including jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., and may have found the perfect spot to make his stakes debut. He’s also been training well over at Belmont Park all winter so far.

Bonus Points will attempt to better his runner-up finish in the Jerome and, while he probably wouldn’t have beaten El Areeb that day, his bobble at the break was significant enough to make sure he had his work cut out for him, yet he managed to close strongly enough to garner second. A clean trip and a dry track may be all he needs to make it to the wire in front.

The well-bred Fillet of Sole makes a return for the first time since breaking his maiden at Parx Racing at the end of November. He owns some top connections in owner St. Elias Stable, Teresa Viola Racing Stables, Brooklyn Boys and MEB Stable and trainer Todd Pletcher and will have the comebacking Rajiv Maragh aboard. He has some decent speed numbers in his four-race career and a top performance may earn a larger piece of the pie.

Always a Suspect is another son of Exchange Rate and, while he broke his maiden wearing a $62,500 tag, he’s since stakes-placed. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is giving the colt a shot at stretching out after sprinting in his first four races, but winning at a distance against this bunch may be a task.

Square Shooter is undefeated in two starts at sprint distances and may be better suited to races around one turn, at least judging by his pedigree.

Small Bear is riding a two-race win skein in maiden and allowance company and while the gray son of Macho Uno seems to have a bright future and has found a good spot to test the graded stakes waters, he is in very deep water here.

New York-bred Jaime’s Angel looked good in breaking his maiden by 5 ¾ lengths against fellow state-breds last out, but this jump in class may be too tough, at least against the top runners.

Margaret Ransom
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.

After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.

She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.

In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”

Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.

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