Which way El Areeb will go isn't known yet, but he certainly looked the part of a rising 3-year-old hopeful in taking the January 2 Jerome Handicap (USA-G3), the first points race of 2017 for this year's Road to the Kentucky Derby. Already a stakes winner over 6 furlongs in November, the gray son of Exchange Rate ran off and hid from six rivals in his first test over a route. That earned him his first graded win and 10 points toward a Derby starting berth, but more importantly, it revealed a willingness to rate off a rival until asked. As both his previous wins had been scored in front-running fashion, the new tactics were an important step in the colt's mental maturation and bode well for his ability to compete at the next level.
El Areeb is a son of the late Exchange Rate, who scored his biggest win in the 2001 Tom Fool Handicap (USA-G2). Before writing El Areeb off as a speed horse who got lucky over a wet track, however, it's worth remembering that Exchange Rate's progeny include stakes winners at up to 2500 meters (about 12 furlongs). Further, El Areeb hails from a solid Canadian family that includes Queen's Plate winner Regal Intention and Canadian Oaks winners Tilt My Halo and Tiffany's Secret, and his dam is a daughter of 1992 Belmont Stakes (USA-I) and Breeders' Cup Classic (USA-G1) winner A.P. Indy. He will still have to prove that he has inherited the speed and the stamina to become a contender along the Triple Crown trail, but today's win was certainly a step in the right direction and a positive omen for his future.