by Heather Pettinger
Albaugh Family Stable's J Boys Echo picked up the first stakes win of his career and earned 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, virtually locking down a spot in the "Run for the Roses," with a 3 ½-length victory in the 65th running of the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
With Robby Albarado aboard, J Boys Echo broke from the inside post position and saved ground in fourth early as 2-5 favorite El Areeb, ridden by Trevor McCarthy, assumed control of the seven-horse field while under pressure from True Timber and jockey Kendrick Carmouche.
The top pair swept through an opening quarter-mile in 23.58 seconds and a half in 47.70 as J Boys Echo sat patiently along the rail, traveling about five lengths behind Cloud Computing in third and as much as six or seven lengths behind the leaders on the backstretch.
J Boys Echo revved up with a four-wide move while Cloud Computing was angled out for a bid in the far turn, both passing a fading True Timber and meeting the heavy favorite near the quarter-pole.
El Areeb gave in as J Boys Echo hit a new gear at the top of the lane and drew clear over Cloud Computing to finish 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.34. Sent off at 6-1, the winner returned $14.80 for a $2 win wager.
"They were moving pretty quick up on the back side," said Albarado. "I swung him out and he took off and I hand-rode him home. He was really impressive. He was a good horse today. It was only his second start of the year. There's room for him to be better. I don't want to say too much, but he's a nice horse. He's a good colt."
Last fall, the Dale Romans-trained Mineshaft colt broke his maiden at second asking by 5 ½ lengths at Keeneland before wading into the deeper waters of stakes company to close his juvenile campaign with a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot November 19. J Boys Echo kicked off his 3-year-old campaign in the Grade 3 Withers on February 4 at the Big A, where he finished third to El Areeb after a wide trip.
"Last time he drew the 10-hole here, and everyone was bunched up and not spreading out," said Romans. "He was wide all the way around and still ran a nice starter race. We took it as the first step and he came back today and was very impressive.
"This horse hasn't been the easiest of horses," he noted. "He's been a project for Tammy [Fox, assistant to Romans and J Boys Echo's exercise rider], and she's done a great job getting him around and getting us here."
With two wins from five starts, J Boys Echo increased his earnings to $299,600.
Romans added that J Boys Echo will likely run once more before the Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs, either in the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct or the Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland, both on April 8 and each awarding 100-40-20-10 Derby points to the top four finishers.
As part of the Kentucky Derby Championship Series, the Gotham is worth a total of 85 points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
Everything is on the table for El Areeb, said trainer Cathal Lynch, following his colt's first stakes defeat. El Areeb, who rode a four-race win streak into the Gotham, added 10 more qualifying points for a total of 30 following local wins in the Grade 3 Jerome and Withers this winter.
"Pace makes the race and that's what happened," said Lynch. "He ran well but you can't go 47 [seconds for a half-mile] on this track and stay there. It set up perfect for the winner. I knew that horse [J Boys Echo] was going to run well because he ran well last time but pace killed us today.
"He ran his race and he'll come back and fight another day," he continued. "There's plenty of options. This is a nice horse and he'll do well later on. I'm not sure, I'll talk to the owners and decide what we're going to do next.
Cloud Computing, making his second lifetime start, picked up 20 points for his runner up effort, 7 ½ lengths ahead of El Areeb. Action Everyday, True Timber, So Conflated and Gaetano completed the order of finish.