by Teresa Genaro
He hadn’t raced since a runner-up effort in the Remsen (G2) last November, but Avery Island showed no rust in returning to Aqueduct, easily winning the Withers (G3) on Saturday afternoon by two lengths.
Shipping up this week from trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s Palm Meadows winter base, the Godolphin homebred faced only four rivals and went to the post the even-money favorite under Joe Bravo, who’s now been in the saddle for all five of Avery Island’s starts.
Though his two wins both came on the lead, Avery Island let longshot Coltandmississippi go to the front after briefly dueling with him, taking back a length or two up the backstretch. He never let the leader too far out of his sight, nor did he challenge him early, waiting until the far turn to move.
Coming into the stretch, Avery Island was joined by Firenze Fire, winner of the Jerome Stakes here last month, but the son of Street Sense out of the A.P. Indy mare Kinda Spicy faced little resistance as he took the lead and Coltandmississippi faded. Marconi launched a late outside bid and settled for third behind Firenze Fire.
Speaking from Gulfstream Park, where he was set to saddle Enticed in the Holy Bull (G2), McLaughlin told the New York Racing Association (NYRA), “He did everything right and finished strong. It looked like he was push-button, so it was great that he switched off that quick and then switched back on.”
“He’s just learning to enjoy himself out there,” Bravo said of the bay colt. “Avery has all the tools to be a good horse. The quicker he goes, the better he is, but I didn’t want to turn it into a sprint. He’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do.”
“Joe rode him perfectly,” assistant trainer Joe Lee said. “Joe was able to take him back and get to the outside, and it worked out perfectly. He had in his mind that he was going to go and make use of him (early), but when Junior (Alvarado on Coltandmississippi) put the pressure on the outside, the inside’s not really where you want to be going head-and-head, Joe did a great job in taking him back and moving to the outside.”
Though non-committal about Avery Island’s next race, McLaughlin mentioned the Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct on March 3. The horse will return to Florida on Tuesday to resume training.
An official prep race for the Kentucky Derby, the Withers offered a total of 17 points, distributed 10-4-2-1 to the top-four finishers. Adding to the points he earned in the Remsen, Avery Island now has 24 points and sits in 7th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Despite the loss, Firenze Fire moved into 2nd place with 24 points.