By Heather Pettinger —-
Avery Island; All photos by Susie Raisher
OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Godolphin Racing’s homebred Avery Island got his sophomore campaign off to an impressive start, picking up 10 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby with a two-length victory in the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by regular jockey Joe Bravo, Avery Island took up position at the head of the five-horse field, where he was quickly joined by Coltandmississippi, one of three entrants from the Todd Pletcher barn. After an opening quarter-mile in 23.32 seconds, Bravo took an easy hold on the bay colt by Street Sense, leaving Coltandmississippi about two lengths in front to lead the half in 47.08 and six furlongs in 1:11.57.
Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire, winner of the Grade 1 Champagne in October and Jerome last month, began his move from fourth while talented maiden winner Marconi rallied from last as the field rounded the far turn.
Avery Island was soon reengaged with the pacesetter, briefly meeting Coltandmississippi at the three-eighths pole before putting him away to turn for home 2 ½ lengths ahead of Firenze Fire and Marconi. Avery Island held clear down the lane to complete the 1 1/8-mile route in 1:51.01.
Firenze Fire was second, a half-length ahead of Pletcher trainee Marconi, making his stakes debut. It was another 18 ¾ lengths back to Coltandmississippi in fourth. Bal Harbour was fifth. California Night was scratched.
“The best horse won today,” said Bravo. “Avery has all the tools to be a good horse. He’s just learning to enjoy himself out there. He just relaxed. He just got better and stronger going down the lane. I opened up early around the turn. The quicker he goes, the better he is, but I didn’t want to turn it into a sprint, so if they are going to beat us, they’re going to have to outrun us from the top. Today, he did it nicely.”
Sent off as the even-money favorite, Avery Island returned $4.30 for a $2 win wager.
The win was Avery Island’s second at the Big A, following a 4 ¾-length score in the Grade 2 Nashua at a one-turn mile in November. The colt stretched out to two turns in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 Remsen on December 2, where he tracked the early pace and kicked on late to finish an encouraging second behind the late-running Catholic Boy.
Avery Island, whose Remsen effort earned him four qualifying points to the Derby on May 5 at Churchill Downs, picked up another 10 points for the Withers, a designated race in the Kentucky Derby prep series for a total of 14. Firenze Fire earned four additional Derby points in the Withers to bring his total to 24, while Marconi picked up two points and Coltandmississippi got one.
The win was the third overall for Avery Island, who boosted his lifetime earnings to $365,332.
“It was a great run,” said McLaughlin, who also trained Withers winners Divine Park (2007), Mr. Fantasy (2009), and Alpha (2012). “Joe Bravo rode him very well, letting the other speed go and sit second. He did everything right and finished strong. It was a nice win and we’re pleased with Avery Island. It looked like he was push button, so it was great that he switched off that quick and then switch back on.”
The next New York-based Kentucky Derby prep is the Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham on March 10, followed by the centerpiece of the Aqueduct spring meet, the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial on April 7.