Arabian Lion switched to stalking tactics in Saturday’s $400,000 Woody Stephens (G1) at Belmont Park, surging to the lead in midstretch and edging away to a 1 3/4-length decision. The Bob Baffert-trained colt notched his second consecutive stakes win, and initial graded tally, and John Velaquez piloted the chestnut colt through seven furlongs in 1:21.70.
A couple races earlier on the program, Next made all the running in the $250,000 Brooklyn (G2), scoring by a 2 1/4-length margin in the 1 1/2-mile event.
Arabian Lion was bet down as the 2.35-1 favorite in his fourth start of the season for owner Zedan Racing Stables. After finishing last of four in the Robert B. Lewis (G3) in early February, Arabian Lion turned things around off a 2 1/2-month freshening in the Lexington (G3), recording a close second to the well-regarded First Mission. Arabian Lion entered the Woody Stephens off a four-length, gate-to-wire romp in the Sir Barton S. on the Preakness (G1) undercard.
“This horse, I’ve always been so high on, he’s just been slow to come around,” Baffert said. “Amr Zedan [of Zedan Racing Stables], he let me be patient with him and now we’re getting rewarded with the way he ran.”
From the first crop of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, who finished a close third to Bolt d’Oro and Good Magic in the 2022 freshman sire standings, Arabian Lion provided his sire with his initial Grade 1 winner.
“He’s just a smaller version of Justify and to have a horse by Justify—one of the greatest horses I’ve ever trained—and to bring him to New York and win a Grade 1, that’s what we’re all in the game for,” Baffert said. “I ran the right horse (National Treasure) in the Preakness. (Arabian Lion) wasn’t ready for something like that.”
Drew’s Gold tracked pacesetter Federal Judge through splits in :22.65 and :45.64, and Arabian Lion stalked a couple of lengths back in third through the opening half-mile.
Velazquez asked for run entering the stretch, as Drew’s Gold advanced to take a short lead, and Arabian Lion wore down his rival with about a furlong remaining.
“He broke well,” Velazquez said. “He got outrun right away so I sat behind the leaders. When I asked him to do it down the lane, he responded right away. He is a nice horse.”
Drew’s Gold held second by three-quarters of a length over a rallying Gilmore. Federal Judge held for fourth and was followed by Gun Pilot, General Jim, Victory Formation, Fort Warren, Dark Vector, and Arman.
Arabian Lion pushed his earnings to $437,600 from a 7-3-2-0 record. Bred in Kentucky by Bonne Chance Farm, he was purchased for $600,000 at the OBS April two-year-old sale.
Baffert said the $1 million Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park on July 22 will be a target for Arabian Lion.
In the Brooklyn, Next rebounded from a third in his seasonal opener, the Isaac Murphy Marathon S. in early May, with a convincing gate-to-wire triumph. The gray five-year-old gelding showed the way on a short lead but edged away on the far turn, drawing off by six lengths in midstretch before staying on to score by 2 1/4 lengths.
Luan Machado was up for owner Michael Foster and trainer William Cowans. Winner of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G2) on the Breeders’ Cup Friday undercard last fall, the four-time stakes victor was off as the 3.35-1 third choice, and Next finished 1 1/2 miles in 2:31.01.
Calibrate rallied for second, more than three lengths better Red Run, and 5-2 favorite Warrant completed the superfecta. Portos, Forewarned, Centavo, Bright Future, Alfio, and Code Runner rounded out the order.
Cowans said Next will be aimed to the 1 3/4-mile Birdstone S. at Saratoga on July 27.