Jockey Joe Bravo was encouraged rather than disappointed after Avery Island placed second, 4 ¾ lengths behind Catholic Boy, in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes on Dec. 2. He was convinced the defeat would provide a valuable education.
The Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct showed how accurate Bravo was in his assessment.
Avery Island displayed newfound maturity in his first start since the Remsen, capturing the Withers by two lengths against Firenze Fire as he took a significant step toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
“It was a great win,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “We’re on the road to the first Saturday in May with Avery Island.”
Avery Island was sired by Street Sense, the 2007 Kentucky Derby winner, and it appears Street Sense’s stamina was passed on. “He just got better and stronger going down the lane,” Bravo said.
Owned and bred by Godolphin, the bay colt has shown a desire for distance since the early stages of his development. He needed only two starts to break his maiden, dominating his competition by 5 ¼ lengths last Sept. 30 at Belmont Park. He earned his first graded stakes triumph when he rolled by 4 ¾ lengths in the Grade 2 one-mile Nashua Stakes last Nov. 5 at Aqueduct.
He took a step back in the 1 1/8-mile one-mile Remsen only to take two steps forward at the same distance in the Withers.
“Avery has all the tools to be a good horse,” Bravo said. “He’s just learning to enjoy himself out there.”
Avery Island did well to sit off a brisk pace set by Coltandmississippi, the surprising early leader for jockey Junior Alvarado and one of three starters in the short five-horse field for trainer Todd Pletcher. Coltandmississippi zipped the opening quarter of a mile in 23.32 seconds and carved out the first half-mile in 47.08 seconds. He began to falter after covering three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.57. Firenze Fire, winner of the Jerome Stakes on Jan. 13, kept up his hot pursuit in third for trainer Jason Servis.
“He got a little keen with me early,” said Trevor McCarthy, who rode Firenze Fire. “I would have rather had him sit back a little more and then made a move, but he was a bit on the muscle.”
McCarthy added, “At the top of the stretch, he was in contact. The way the track was playing was a bit speed-favoring, so I was happy where he was at the top of the stretch. He kicked well for me, but the other one (Avery Island) kicked harder.”
Avery Island went on the attack entering the far turn and gradually edged clear. Marconi, ridden by Manuel Franco, overcame a sluggish start to be third, a whopping 18 ¾ lengths ahead of a withering Coltandmississippi. Bal Harbour completed the order of finish.
McLaughlin could not have been happier with the winner.
“It was a great run,” he said. “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.”
The victory was worth 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner, according to the points system established by Churchill Downs. Firenze Fire earned four points for second, Marconi was awarded two points for third and Coltandmississippi one point for fourth.
McLaughlin said he will confer with Godolphin officials before deciding on the next scheduled start for Avery Island. He ruled out staying at Aqueduct for the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on March 10 because that distance cuts back to one mile, and he has the luxury of knowing his developing 3-year-old wants to go longer than that.