Firenze Fire showed plenty of grit recording a trio of graded stakes victories, including the January 13 Jerome in his 2018 opener, and heart has never been the issue for Jason Servis-trained colt. His ability to thrive at longer distances is the question and Firenze Fire will look to clear the two-turn hurdle in Saturday’s $250,000 Withers (G3) at 1 1/8 miles.
From the first crop of Grade 1-winning sprinter Poseidon’s Warrior, Firenze Fire recorded an outstanding victory in the Champagne (G1) at a one-turn mile last October, defeating subsequent Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) hero Good Magic. But Firenze Fire did not go on when trying two turns at Del Mar in the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile, checking in a well-beaten seventh, and the bay colt cut back to a one-turn mile when opening the year with a game half-length decision in the Jerome.
With the elimination of the inner track, Aqueduct has been forced to run its Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifiers at either a one-turn mile or 1 1/8 miles. The Withers is worth a combined 17 points to the top four finishers (10-4-2-1) and Firenze Fire is currently tied for second on the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard with a total of 20 points.
Trevor McCarthy picks up the mount and Firenze Fire will break from the rail against five challengers, including a trio from the Todd Pletcher barn.
Multiple stakes victor Bal Harbour possesses the best credentials of the Pletcher contingent. The First Samurai colt exits a runner-up effort to the impressive Mask in the January Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream Park and adds the services of Kendrick Carmouche.
Marconi will make his stakes debut for Pletcher following an impressive 5 ½-length maiden tally at Aqueduct on December 15. Manny Franco, who was up on Firenze Fire last time, takes over the reins on the Tapit colt. Coltsandmississippi completes the trio but will need to improve upon a non-threatening third in the Jerome.
Nashua (G2) winner Avery Island is also entered. A son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, the Kiaran McLaughlin pupil exits a runner-up effort in the December 2 Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct. Joe Bravo rides.
California Night, who rolled to a three-length maiden tally when making his career debut at Aqueduct on December 10, promises to show speed for trainer Mike Maker and jockey Rafael Hernandez in his second start.