Based in South Florida, Avery Island shipped north to open his 3-year-old season with a two-length victory in the February 3 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct. His last two starts – a Nashua (G3) win and Remsen (G2) second – came over the same grounds and Avery Island has now made all five career starts in New York. And it will be no surprise to see him receive his final Kentucky Derby tune-up in the Wood Memorial (G2) on April 7.

But after needing nearly 40 seconds to complete the final three-eighths in the Withers, Avery Island still has something to prove. He received only a 94 BRIS Speed rating that won’t get it done against steeper competition in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series.

Avery Island utilized front-running tactics as expected from the starting gate and jockey Joe Bravo eased back when Coltandmississippi surprisingly sprinted to the lead on the first turn. After patiently tracking in second, Avery Island launched a visually impressive move to seize control on the far turn and entered the stretch drive on a widening lead.

He registered a 106 BRIS E2 Pace rating moving powerfully to the lead but ran out of steam in the stretch, generating only a 78 Late Pace number. The Godolphin Stables-owned colt has the pedigree for Triple Crown distances – he’s by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and out a mare by Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy – but the Withers wasn’t encouraging.

Fortunately for the bay colt, his nearest rivals were unable to make up the necessary ground in deep stretch.

Runner-up Firenze Fire, who finished up the track trying two turns in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), had no excuses after having the winner in his sights with a furlong remaining. And given the heart and desire shown previously, getting up in the latter stages to record a trio of graded stakes wins at one turn, the setback reinforced doubts surrounding his affinity for longer distances.

Third-placer Marconi deserves more leeway given it was his first start against winners and he finished nearly 20 lengths clear of the remaining two contestants. Second when opening his career in mid-November, the Todd Pletcher pupil was exiting a 5 ½-length maiden score in a 1 1/8-mile maiden a month later and Marconi had to be urged along early after dropping about 10 lengths off the pace in his stakes debut. He offered a nice move into contention and never quit trying despite tiring late.

The gray colt is by leading sire Tapit, who hasn’t made much of a Kentucky Derby impact yet with his offspring but has produced three of the last four winners of the Belmont Stakes. Marconi remains eligible to keep improving and the Belmont Stakes looks like an option if he doesn’t develop fast enough for the first Saturday in May.