Nothing means more than natural ability, with persistence a close second. That’s especially true in racing, a sport of relentless failure in which only the very best win 25 percent of the time.

You can’t get discouraged, especially if you think you have a promising 3-year-old colt as winter turns to spring. So after a disappointing season debut last month in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, trainer Dale Romans decided to give J Boys Echo another chance. Jockey Robby Albarado made the return trip, and suddenly they have a Kentucky Derby contender.

On a frigid Saturday at the windswept Big A, J Boys Echo moved four-wide into the stretch and cruised to a 3½-length victory over Cloud Computing in the Grade III, $300,000 Gotham Stakes. In third, 11 lengths behind the winner, was 2-5 favorite El Areeb, who beat J Boys Echo by 4¾ lengths in the Withers.

True Timber pushed pacesetter El Areeb from the start and softened him up. Midway on the turn, J Boys Echo was fourth but looked like a winner.

“Perfect trip, man,” Albarado said. “They were moving pretty good up front. I just swung him outside and rode him home. Very impressive.”

Romans’ longtime partner, Tammy Fox, is a talented exercise rider. She’s been working every day with J Boys Echo, a gifted goofball.

“He hasn’t been the easiest of horses,” Romans said. “He was a big clown. He’s been a project and Tammy’s done a great job getting him to come around. Last time he drew the 10 hole, was wide all around and still ran a nice starter race. We took it as the first step.”

Saturday was a misstep for El Areeb, who had won four straight. “Pace makes the race, and that’s what happened,” trainer Cathal Lynch said. “You can’t go 47 seconds [for a half-mile] on this track and stay there. He’ll come back and fight another day.”

J Boys Echo paid $14.80 after running 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.34 for only his second win in five starts.

Romans is 50, Albarado is 43, and they’ve won almost every important race except the one they want most: the Derby. The Gotham was worth 50 Derby qualifying points, guaranteeing J Boys Echo a spot in America’s Race.

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“It’s great to win in New York,” Romans said. “If you can do it here, you can do it anywhere. I said that one time and got me a song out of it.”

He meant “make it here . . . make it anywhere,” but it still was a pretty good line.

Gunnevara wins Fountain of Youth. Gunnevara rallied for Javier Castellano to dominate Gulfstream’s Grade II Fountain of Youth. Irish War Cry, the previously unbeaten even-money favorite, faded to seventh.