With the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) looming, Godolphin and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin are blessed with a pair of top contenders in pursuit of their first victory on the first Saturday in May.
And while Enticed, out of multiple grade 1 winner It's Tricky, may be the more fancied choice, there's plenty to like about Avery Island—who is out of the less-heralded, though undefeated, Kinda Spicy.
Kinda Spicy, by A.P. Indy, won both career starts while racing for Darley under Tom Albertrani's care. The bay mare earned an 85 Beyer Speed Figure when taking a nine-furlong allowance route July 28, 2011 at Saratoga Race Course in her final start.
"I remember that she (Kinda Spicy) was two-for-two and maybe going to the Alabama (Stakes, grade 1)," McLaughlin said. "It's a great female line and he's (Avery Island) by Street Sense , a Derby winner. Great pedigree."
Avery Island boasts a special female family line, as Kinda Spicy is one of only two foals to make it to the races from the Chilean Horse of the Year and U.S. multiple grade 3 winner, Isola Piu Bella.
"She was a very talented filly," Albertrani recalled of Kinda Spicy. "I remember she had a lot of potential and was a beautiful-looking filly, but she ended up retiring early with an injury, which is why she was so lightly raced.
"She was very kind to train and a well-made horse, very attractive, just good qualities all around her, but unfortunately never had the opportunity. It was just a soft tissue injury, and she needed to retire."
Although Kinda Spicy has produced two other runners, Tasteful and Golden Muscade, they failed to show the promise of the family line. But it would appear that Avery Island, a multiple graded stakes winner in just five starts, may now fulfill the vast potential.
Avery Island debuted Aug. 19 at Saratoga as a lukewarm 7-2 favorite, but failed to fire when seventh in a six-furlong maiden special weight test. The well-related individual then redeemed himself with a powerful 5 1/4-length romp when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles over a Belmont Park main track rated "good."
"We thought he had a chance to be special right away," McLaughlin said. "We were disappointed with the first start, but in his second start he rebounded going farther. He's a large colt, a very big colt, and needed more ground."
McLaughlin was reassured following the less-than-stellar debut by jockey Joe Bravo who, at 47, is also seeking his first Derby win.
"After that first start, Joe said, 'Don't be disappointed, just run him farther. He's a very nice colt, don't get down,'" McLaughlin recalled.
A front-running maiden winner, Avery Island was similarly prominent when winning the Nov. 5 Nashua Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack by a widening 4 3/4-lengths. That score put the gargantuan bay on the map as a potential Derby contender. He completed his juvenile campaign with a rallying second in the Dec. 2 Remsen Stakes (G2), which was won by multiple graded stakes winner Catholic Boy. That rival recently finished second in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs.
It is promising, however, that while his rival landed second in his sophomore debut, Avery Island fired his best shot yet when taking the Feb. 3 Withers Stakes (G3) over nine furlongs to earn an 87 Beyer.
Handicappers studying the race lines may be concerned that Avery Island's best results have come when on the pace, but McLaughlin believes the big colt can rate.
"He's learning each time. In the Remsen, Joe took him back a little bit and took dirt, and then finished second but he did finish up well," McLaughlin said. "In the Withers, he went as it didn't look like there was any pace so we were gonna go and then Junior Alvarado (aboard Coltandmississippi) cleared us on the outside and he just waited and sat on him. He was patient and it worked out well. He finished up strong.
"He's pretty push-button. The problem is, you never know when you get into 15 or 20 horse fields, as it gets a little tougher. Enticed found that to be the case down here when he was down on the inside (and finished fourth) in the Holy Bull (G2). He was getting crowded."
Avery Island has trained forwardly over the winter for McLaughlin from his base at Palm Meadows Training Center. And the veteran conditioner believes the colt has room to grow.
"He's definitely improved. He improved every week from the Remsen to the Withers. He just kept working better and sharper. He was improving all the time," McLaughlin noted. "I think Avery Island does everything right. We're very excited about him. He'll work this week and we're pointing for the Louisiana Derby (G2)."
With a myriad of options on the menu for horses chasing Kentucky Derby glory, it's curious that Avery Island will make his next start at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, a track where McLaughlin has yet to record a victory in a decorated career.
Ultimately, the decision was made that after two good efforts over nine furlongs, a turn back would not be beneficial for Avery Island.
"I spoke to Jimmy Bell from Godolphin and the New York route, the Gotham Stakes (G3), went to a mile, and we didn't want to back up to a mile," the trainer said. "We could have gone to the (Lambholm South) Tampa Bay Derby (G2, 1 1/16 miles) or just waited until the Wood Memorial (G2, 1 1/8 miles), but it was just perfect timing between the Withers and the Kentucky Derby. It's a mile-and-an-eighth and we just feel it works out for us as far as timing goes."
So, March 24, McLaughlin will look for his first win at the Louisiana track with the larger implications of a Kentucky Derby start hinging on the result.
"He wants the mile and an eighth," said McLaughlin of Avery Island. "They're all tough, but hopefully it goes well for us and we draw a good post and we get there. Ultimately, we still have to get there."
The Derby can certainly produce some anomalies. In 2005, McLaughlin was second with his first Derby starter, Closing Argument, a 71-1 shot bested by 50-1 Giacomo. In 2015, he saddled Frosted , who wound up fourth. Eventual Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Jazil (2006) and grade 2 winner Mohaymen (2016) also wound up fourth. The trainer's other Derby runners finished off the board—Flashy Bull (14th in 2006), Soldat (11th in 2011), and Alpha (12th in 2012)
"Frosted was well back early, 16th, and finished fourth and was running late but ran into a Triple Crown winner in American Pharoah ," McLaughlin said. "You never know, but we're happy to be where we are today and we hope to keep going."
And while McLaughlin admits to a little bit of Derby dreaming, he isn't getting too carried away just yet.
"Yes, we're chasing it," he said. "Everyone in the business would like to win the Kentucky Derby. Being born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, it's always on your mind, but I will say this, the horse has to take you there.
"You can't say you're going to the Derby no matter what. We've got two horses on the trail, but the two have to take us there, and the next race is very important for both Enticed and Avery Island. We won't run in the Derby under any circumstances. We need the horse to take us there, be doing great, and deserve to be there. It's a tough race to win."
The popular and well-bred Enticed will make his next start in either the Gotham or the Tampa Bay Derby, but there's a chance the improving Avery Island may provide Godolphin with its best Derby chance yet.
"Every one of them is bred to be a champion," McLaughlin said of his Godolphin trainees. "They're not all champions, but they're certainly bred to be. They're all royally bred and it's an honor to train them."