The power in the three-year old Thoroughbred category has been west coast based for the several years now. Four of the past five Kentucky Derby winners have been based in California including the last three in a row (California Chrome, American Pharoah, Nyquist). Is there a current runner that can break the Linus-like stranglehold the Golden State has on the rose blanky?

El Areeb is a brilliantly marked son of Exchange Rate. As beautiful as his gray coat is, his recent runs have been even prettier. Winning the last two races of his two-year old campaign at Laurel Park in Maryland and then stringing together two wins to begin his three-year old season, the Kentucky-bred colt has been one hot horse, But for trainer Cal Lynch, the best thing may be what he has not seen.

“The thing that is probably most encouraging about him is I don’t think we have seen his best yet,” says Lynch. “He is very athletic and just does things so easily, We knew after he won the James Lewis at Laurel in his final race at two that he was something special.”

El Areeb certainly looked “special” while romping to the winner’s circle in the Jerome Stakes on January 2 at Aqueduct. Returning with a powerful stretch run in the Withers Stakes on February 4 at Aqueduct, this great grandson of Northern Dancer was much the best as he rolled home 4 lengths ahead and covered the mile and a sixteenth in 1:44.47 after stalking the pace.

Training very forwardly and looking full of run, Lynch decided to run his budding star in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 4 for a couple of reasons.

“He was really sharp in training and just doing so well we felt like he needed to run,” says Lynch of his prized colt. “Plus we wanted to get more points to make sure we can get into the Derby. The idea was to not wait until the final preps and have to run the risk if something happens.“

The Gotham did not necessarily play out the way Lynch would have hoped, but his horse did pick up some valuable experience. Bolting for the lead out of the gates, El Areeb lead until the top of the stretch while setting some hot early fractions (47.70 half mile). Giving way to a stalking J Boys Echo at the top of the lane, Lynch’s charge finished a tiring third. That finish did allow for more Kentucky Derby points and the M M G Stables runner now stands with 30 in the qualifying column.

“You can’t go 47 seconds in a half on this track and stay there,” says Lynch. “Pace makes the race and that is what happened. He’ll come back and fight another day. He came out of the race great.”

Lynch has every reason to be optimistic with El Areeb. A veteran of the game, the Maryland-based conditioner can’t help but be a bit smitten with such a talent. Looking for his first starter in the world’s most famous race, Lynch is trying keep his fever in check.

“You can’t help but hope and dream when you have a horse like this,” says Lynch. “We are just trying to take things one day at a time. I have heard some people say you can’t take a horse to the Kentucky Derby, he has to take you. That is absolutely the way we feel about El Areeb. If he is good enough he will get us there.”