(Avery Island, ridden by Joe Bravo, wins the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct / Photo courtesy of NYRA and Susie Raisher Photo)

Here are some of the top quotes from the various races held around the country on Saturday. These events help kick start the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” in earnest, although that has already happened, in truth, with the running of the Sham Stakes, the Southwest Stakes and the LeComte Stakes.

Take a look at what some of the connections had to say:

Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, won by Avery Island:

“The best horse won today,” said veteran jockey Joe Bravo, who guided his missile to his latest impressive performance. “Avery has all the tools to be a good horse. He’s just learning to enjoy himself out there. He just relaxed. He just got better and stronger going down the lane. I opened up early around the turn. The quicker he goes, the better he is, but I didn’t want to turn it into a sprint, so if they are going to beat us, they’re going to have to outrun us from the top. Today, he did it nicely.”

“It was a great run,” said Avery Island’s trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, who also trained Withers winners Divine Park (2007), Mr. Fantasy (2009), and Alpha (2012). “Joe Bravo rode him very well, letting the other speed go and sit second. He did everything right and finished strong. It was a nice win and we’re pleased with Avery Island. It looked like he was push button, so it was great that he switched off that quick and then switch back on.”

Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, won by Audible:

“We actually brought him down a little bit later because we were entered in the New York-bred stake, and then all the bad weather hit in New York and it got delayed and carried over,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “Elliott Walden said, ‘Why don’t we just take him down to Florida and see how he trains and go from there.’ Maybe it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The original plan was to run him in the New York-bred stake and then bring him down but when all the bad weather hit we came up with a different strategy and it seemed to work out well today.”

“We felt like he wanted more ground and he kind of showed that in his first race when he didn’t get away real quickly and retreated when the dirt hit him in the face and then rallied with a pretty strong effort. Then he came back and won two pretty impressive races after that, so we felt like more distance was definitely what he was looking for.”

“He really kicked. Javier said he kept him to task because he was kind of looking around a little bit and saw the tire marks and he didn’t want him to make a mistake. He really accelerated. The final time was quite good.”

“I don’t think he minds a little bit of moisture in the track, and the little bit of rain we had kind of had it nice and tight, but it wasn’t producing super-fast times on the day.”

“I think the question now is do you run him two more times or one more time and we’ll let him tell us kind of how he bounces out of this. He’s a very kind horse to train, very easy on himself in the morning. I love the way he came over here and handled everything. He was perfect in the paddock, post parade, gate – all those little intangibles that really help with horses that are pointing for big days.”

“We felt like we had talent and we were trying to decide which direction to go. We knew we wanted to get him down here, especially when the weather got bad mainly to have a more reliable training schedule. All of that went smoothly. He shipped in great, he trained really well when he got here so it kind of made it an easy decision that this was an easy race to target.”

From Audible’s rider Javier Castellano: “I love the way he did it today, compared to our last race, because his last race he was still developing and bit laid back. I really had to ride him last time out and he’d give it to you. Today he was sharp and had tactical speed in the race and we could move and he’d give me everything I asked of him. I love these kinds of horses, you don’t get in trouble with them, where you can move quick and can put them in a good position. I love the way he did it today. I think Todd did a great job developing this horse and to win the way he did today is very impressive.”

“It’s only a mile and sixteenth today, but the way he galloped out was amazing. I look forward to the next race.”

From Luis Saez, the rider of runner-up Free Drop Billy: “He ran hard. He tried hard. The winner was tough. Maybe after the layoff he got a little tired, but he tried. I think he’ll be ready for his next start.”

From Robby Alvarado, the rider of third-place finisher Tiz Mischief: “It was hard making up any ground on the track. I think he’ll get a lot out of the race.”

From Joel Rosario, the rider of Kentucky Jockey Club winner Enticed, who faded on Saturday: “I got a good trip. He just didn’t give me a run.”

The Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, won by Strike Power:

“He fell out of there nicely,” trainer Mark Hennig said. “He’s just quick. He’s quick away from there right in hand. Then, I thought he had it pretty easy from there.

“I was concerned (with the jump to stakes company). There’s not a lot of options. He’s a horse whose first race warranted a jump in class.”

Chris Landeros, the rider of Gotta Go (ranked in our top 12 of “Derby Dozen”), and their second place finish: “He ran well today. Hope for the best.”

The Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita, won by Lombo:

“He ran a big race,” said Flavien Prat, who picked up the mount when Kent Desromeaux opted to ride eventual runner-up Ayacara.  “They put a little pressure on him down the backside, but he was nice and relaxed.  I worked him last week and he’s got a lot of speed.  I was concerned he might want to go, but he was relaxed.  That was my main concern, but he releaxed and then he went on.”

Said trainer Mike Pender: “He’s definitely a high octane horse,” said Pender.  “Apparently, Graydar (the sire of Lombo) had some of the same characteristics and Unbridled’s Song (Graydar’s sire) as well.  He’s just a big kid and has a little (Attention Deficit Disorder) to him, but he’s starting to figure it out.  When he does…I think he’ll be really dangerous.”