After a change of plan by trainer Jeremy Noseda, Gronkowski will try to earn his way into the Kentucky Derby (G1) by garnering the invitation reserved for the points leader on the European Road. The Phoenix Thoroughbred colorbearer will try to achieve that objective in the final European scoring race, Friday’s Burradon S. at Newcastle.
Noseda’s original idea was to give Gronkowski’s Derby ambitions a proper test in a 170-point race on the American dirt April 7, either the Blue Grass (G2) or Wood Memorial (G2). The trainer reportedly believed that the 20 points the colt won in a prior European scoring race, the March 7 Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions S. at Kempton, would carry over stateside, giving him an extra cushion going into his dirt debut. But once learning that his 20 points count only toward the European leaderboard, and that he’s starting from nil on the main leaderboard, the decision was made to take the path of least resistance.
Not that the Burradon is any soft spot itself. Although Gronkowski is already proven over Newcastle’s Tapeta, having bolted up in a February 9 contest going the same mile distance as the Burradon, that was just a three-runner cakewalk. He’ll encounter much better rivals Friday. Three-for-three on synthetic, and in blinkers, the Kentucky-bred is drawn on the far outside post 10 with a returning Jamie Spencer.
Juddmonte homebred Purser looms a dangerous opponent. Mightily impressive in his lone all-weather appearance at Lingfield last fall, the John Gosden trainee is arguably superior to his stablemate Court House, a close and hampered second to Gronkowski at Kempton. Unlike Court House, who was at work through the British winter, Purser went on holiday after his promising campaign including a third in the Autumn S. (G3) and a troubled fourth in a fast-run Solario (G3). Gosden described him as a leggy type bound to be a lot better at three, and the three-quarter brother to Grade 2 vixen Filimbi (and grandson of multiple Grade 1 queen Flute) has plenty of potential. Rob Havlin guides him from the rail.
The classic-entered filly Nyaleti is by far the most accomplished, and accordingly highest rated, contender as the Princess Margaret (G3) romper who placed in such contests as the Chesham (to September) at Royal Ascot, the Duchess of Cambridge (to Clemmie), the May Hill (G2) (to Laurens), and the Rockfel (G2). Trainer Mark Johnston has made her eligible for the English and Irish 1000 Guineas (G1), and the pacey daughter of Arch has every right to transfer her turf form to the all-weather. John Egan, the jockey in her first two starts, regains the mount.
Great Prospector, an English and Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) entry for Richard Fahey, was a close third to Aidan O’Brien’s highly-regarded Gustav Klimt in the Superlative (G2) and last seen sixth in the Dewhurst (G1). Marco Botti’s Dark Acclaim finished his juvenile season with a third in the Silver Tankard at Pontefract, and the Middleham Park colorbearer is viewed as a potential Group performer in the making.
Qatar Racing’s Fortune’s Pearl, third to Gronkowski at Kempton, is eligible to strip fitter second out. The Andrew Balding charge brought solid two-year-old form into that seasonal reappearance, implying that he’s got a good foundation to build upon. The flashy chestnut Freescape will likely be happier back on the all-weather, and thriving after a warm and sunny winter in Dubai where he exits a third in the Meydan Classic.
Another Batt had to go to Istanbul to score a stakes breakthrough in the International Trakya Trophy after a trio of stakes placings in England. Handicapper Iconic Sunset and winter all-weather type De Medici take substantial class hikes.
As that rundown implies, Gronkowski is the only Triple Crown nominee in the Burradon field. The 30 points to the Burradon winner, or the 12 to the runner-up, would be enough (combined with his 20 from Kempton) for “Gronk” to finish the European series on top and win the invitation.
A third-place finish, good for 6 points, would leave him at 26 points – four behind the Burradon winner. Then it would become a waiting game to see if the non-Triple Crown-nominated winner’s connections would stump up the $200,000 to supplement in order to compete in the Derby. If not, Gronkowski’s next up to receive the invitation. A similar scenario would play out if Gronkowski wound up fourth, with just 3 points added to his total.
In the unlikely event Gronkowski’s out of the top four altogether, even current European points leader Mendelssohn – who’s away pursuing main leaderboard points in the UAE Derby (G2) – could back into the equation depending upon what the Burradon winner decides to do and if Mendelssohn still needs a ticket after Dubai. If you want to game out the hypothetical still further, if the non-nominated Burradon winner declines, and Mendelssohn scores a boatload of points on the main leaderboard in Dubai, Gronkowski would be next in line for the invitation as the European Road representative.
You can watch and wager on the Burradon at TwinSpires.com, and the scheduled post time of 10:55 a.m. (EDT).