Beneath a patient C.C. Lopez, El Kabeir rebounded off a runner-up finish in the Withers Stakes to take the Gotham in runaway fashion.
For his effort, El Kabeir earned 50 qualifying points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, and now sits atop the leaderboard with 75 points, cementing his place in the Derby field if all goes well.
According to trainer John Terranova, El Kabeir is likely to make his next start in the Twinspires.com Wood Memorial on April 4 when 100 Derby points will go to the winner.
"He's done so well here, we'd like to stay and run in the Wood," said the trainer. "I think he thrives off the races, and training. The more you throw at him; the stronger he gets."
El Kabeir may have been compromised by an aggressive ride in the Withers, but Lopez employed decidedly different tactics in the 1 1/16-mile Gotham, taking his mount farther off the pace than he had ever been before.
Encouraged by a muddy track that had been favoring speed, Toasting Master sprinted away from the gate to assume control of the early lead, setting brisk fractions of :23.00 and :46.63, with Blame Jim forcing the issue to his outside. Settled next-to-last of 10 starters, El Kabeir and Lopez sat patiently for the first half-mile.
Down the backstretch, the son of Scat Daddy began picking off horses as the field entered the far turn, and he continued to save ground around the bend.
After the pacesetters went three-quarters in 1:12.01, El Kabeir was swung outside for the stretch run, vaulting past the leaders en route to a 2 3/4-length victory. Tiz Shea D, who was third at each internal call, stayed on to finish second. Classy Class, who broke slowly, weaved his way through traffic, was a head back in third. Toasting Master hung on for fourth. They were followed by Tencendur, Dontbetwithbruno, Uninfluenced, Blame Jim, Combat Diver and Lieutenant Colonel.
"He broke good," said Lopez. "But those horses broke better and showed more gas, so then he got quickly shuffled back going into the turn. I just tried not to panic; I was riding the best horse in the race. He was much easier behind horses to throttle the speed back and when I called on him going to the half-mile pole I was able to sneak through on the fence and angle him out going to the three-eighths pole. From there, when he changed leads turning for home, he just exploded. So I'm not worried about the distance any more.
The new dimension El Kabeir showed was especially heartening for Terranova, who said he's seen a mental and physical maturation in tjhe colt since his debut at Saratoga.
"From two to three-years-old, he's a completely different horse," said Terranova. "He was a speedy horse. He was very fast, and we knew he was very talented, but we didn't know how he would be mentally. Now, we've focused on getting him to use his energy in the right way. He's gone the right way; he's that type. It's nice to see him completely change dimensions from two to three, and that quickly."
El Kabeir completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.56, and returned $4.60 on a $2 win wager. With the winner's share of $240,000, the gray/roan colt enhanced his bankroll to $678,892.
Tiz Shea D earned a potential 20 points toward a Derby berth which he'll be awarded if he's late-nominated to the Triple Crown. Ownership said it's something they should do.
"We're thrilled," said Riley Mott, son and assistant to Bill Mott. "Coming off his first career start, in only his second race and first around two turns - against this company - he proved that he belonged. He really, really, impressed us."
Classy Class picked up 10 points for his finish, and Toasting Master earned five.
Edited NYRA release with additional content by Dick Downey