Like his namesake, the three-year-old Gronkowski is proving to be a formidable opponent that’s able to beat you in a variety of ways. On Wednesday evening at Kempton Park, outside London, the equine version rolled to a third consecutive win in the $67,500 Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes as the odds-on choice.
Contested on Kempton’s all-weather surface at one mile, the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes is part of the European Road to the Kentucky Derby series, which offers a single slot in the starting gate of the May 5 Kentucky Derby (G1) to a horse that accumulates the most points in the seven-race series that began last September and runs through March 30.
Taken back early by jockey Jamie Spencer, Gronkowski pulled hard in the run down the backside, but was allowed to advance with a three-wide move on the turn. Ranging up to be on even terms with pacesetter Ventura Knight in upper stretch while still under a snug hold, Gronkowski responded when asked with just over a furlong to go and passed the wire three-quarters of a length ahead of early trailer Court House. The final time was 1:37.74.
Kempton judges reviewed the final furlong of the race when Gronkowski appeared to come in on Court House, who was forced to switch left for a clear run, but no action was taken.
In the U.S. pools, Gronkowski paid $3.40. Finishing 1 1/4 lengths behind second choice Court House was Fortune’s Pearl, who was followed by Ventura Knight, Three Weeks, Ambient, and Bobby Biscuit.
The top four finishers earned European Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points of 20-8-4-2. Gronkowski is the first prep winner in the series to be an actual Triple Crown nominee. The only other one in this field was Three Weeks.
Owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred Limited and trained by Jeremy Noseda, Gronkowksi finished seventh and second in his first two outings, both on grass, but has adapted well to all-weather surfaces. He won by 4 1/2 lengths in his first try on the surface at Chelmsford City in November, and then led throughout in taking his three-year-old debut by six lengths at Newcastle last month.
The European Road to the Kentucky Derby series continues Friday with the Patton Stakes at Dundalk in Ireland, featuring Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) winner Mendelssohn. The series concludes on March 30 with the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle.