Avery Island Rebounds in Withers Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

February 5th, 2018

“Inconclusive” might be the best way to describe the results of the February 3rd $250,000 Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct, an official prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

On paper, Avery Island, Firenze Fire, and Marconi looked like the top three contenders in a field of five horses, and they all ran to expectations, leaving the other two colts nearly twenty lengths behind at the finish. But while all three ran well, I’d argue that we don’t know much more about them than we did before the race was run.

Plenty of credit should be given to Avery Island, who was favored to win based on a two-year-old season that saw him win the Nashua Stakes (gr. II) and finish second with a troubled trip in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II). In the Withers, Avery Island received a dream trip tracking longshot Coltandmississippi through fractions of :23.32, :47.08, and 1:11.57 before taking a clear lead in the homestretch and holding on gamely to win by two lengths.
However, Avery Island’s final time of 1:51.01 for nine furlongs wasn’t all that fast considering that Aqueduct was playing quicker than usual on Saturday, and the resulting BRIS speed figure—a 94—was just a point higher than the 93 Avery Island received in the Remsen.

Furthermore, runner-up Firenze Fire didn’t have the best of trips, finding himself boxed in around the far turn despite the small field. When he got in the clear, he stayed on resolutely and actually out-finished Avery Island through the final furlong, but remained two lengths short at the wire while staying a neck clear of Marconi for the third spot. Firenze Fire’s record now stands at 4-for-5 in one-turn races and 0-for-2 in two-turn races; the Withers was supposed to clarify whether Firenze Fire could be as effective running longer distances as he is going a mile or less, but while he wasn’t beaten by much, I’m not sure that finishing second in this particular race—with its small field and slow final time—really answers the question.

As for Marconi, he had no speed early on and was nearly ten lengths off the pace after the opening quarter-mile, but he actually unleashed a quick :22.94 second quarter-mile to regain contact with the field, and the fact that he kept on gaining ground despite this deceptively fast mid-race move says something about his stamina. The half-brother to 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Mucho Macho Man looks like the type that could develop into a candidate for the .

What did you think of the performances of the top three finishers in the Withers Stakes?