Firenze Fire wins the Jerome Stakes Jan. 13 at Aqueduct

Firenze Fire wins the Jerome Stakes Jan. 13 at Aqueduct

Coglianese Photos/Robert Mauhar

Firenze Fire, Avery Island Stand Out in Withers

Grade 1 winner faces Godolphin homebred and four others.

Grade 1 winner Firenze Fire looks to go two-for-two at Aqueduct Racetrack and boost his Road to the Kentucky Derby standing in the process, when he heads a compact field of six in the $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3) Feb. 3.

Firenze Fire is currently tied for second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 20 points toward a spot in the starting gate for the May 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1). The Withers awards Road to the Kentucky Derby points on a 10-4-2-1 scale to the top four finishers.

After his seasonal bow was delayed 12 days because of inclement weather that forced cancellations at Aqueduct, the son of Poseideon's Warrior was finally able to get himself going in the Jan. 13 Jerome Stakes, where he registered a hard-fought, half-length win over Seven Trumpets. That victory provided a boost to his connections after watching Firenze Fire finish seventh in the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Del Mar Nov. 4

Trained by Jason Servis, Firenze Fire captured the one-mile Champagne Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park Oct. 7, defeating Good Magic, who went on to win the Juvenile and earn the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old male. Owned and bred by Ron Lombardi's Mr. Amore Stable, Firenze Fire has won four of six starts with $539,100 in earnings.

Godolphin Racing's homebred Avery Island is another who has enjoyed stakes success on the Aqueduct track, capturing the Nov. 5 Nashua Stakes (G2). The son of Street Sense  returned to finish second in the Dec. 2 Remsen Stakes (G2), and makes his first start since that outing when he returns in Saturday's Withers.

Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the colt stretched out to two turns in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen, where he tracked the early pace and kicked on late to finish an encouraging second behind late-running Catholic Boy

"It was a good race for him to get educated," McLaughlin said of the Remsen. "Catholic Boy ran a huge race that day, but we took dirt and settled a little bit and put in a nice run to be second. We gave weight to everybody in the race and we have to do it again on Saturday. I don't necessarily like it, but it is what it is."

Since the Remsen, Avery Island has been training at McLaughlin's winter base at Palm Meadows in South Florida, where he turned in his final breeze for the Withers, covering five furlongs in 1:00.75 Jan. 27. He arrived at Belmont Jan 30, and galloped over the training track Jan. 31.

"He had a smooth trip. He trained this morning and all systems are go," McLaughlin said. "He's doing great. We feel like he's improving all the time and he likes the track there, he's been first and second on it in two stakes, so we're feeling good about Saturday. He's ready and we know he wants the distance, so it's all a plus. We wouldn't trade places with anybody."

Trainer Todd Pletcher will be represented by a formidable trio of runners in the Withers, led by talented maiden winner Marconi, a half brother to Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) winner Mucho Macho Man .

The gray son of Tapit  will be making his seasonal bow following a pair of races in his 2-year-old campaign. In his November unveiling, a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight, Marconi was seven wide turning for home and got into gear late in the stretch to finish second to stablemate Biblical by 1 3/4 lengths. 

Marconi, who brought $2 million as a yearling at the 2016 Keeneland September sale, donned blinkers in his second start Dec. 15, also at 1 1/8 miles, where he picked up steam through the final turn and kicked clear to win by 5 1/2 lengths as the 3-5 favorite.

"I think it was a combination of him starting to figure some things out from that first race and the addition of blinkers also helped," Pletcher said. "He's a stoutly bred horse and he's shown some promise in his first two starts. We decided to keep him (in New York) because the distance seems to suit him well and we're hoping he continues in his development."

Entries: Withers S. (G3)

Aqueduct Racetrack, Saturday, February 03, 2018, Race 8

  • Grade III
  • 1 1/8m
  • Dirt
  • $250,000
  • 3 yo
  • 4:35 PM (local)
11Firenze Fire (FL)Trevor McCarthy122Jason Servis9/5
22Marconi (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateManuel Franco116Todd A. Pletcher3/1
33Bal Harbour (KY)Kendrick Carmouche118Todd A. Pletcher6/1
44Avery Island (KY)Joe Bravo122Kiaran P. McLaughlin8/5
55Coltandmississippi (KY)Keeneland Sales GraduateJunior Alvarado118Todd A. Pletcher12/1
66California Night (KY)Rafael Manuel Hernandez116Michael J. Maker15/1