December 9, 2018

Kempton’s Kentucky Derby points race, take two: Gronkowski, Three Weeks back in while Court House joins party

Last week’s wintry blast may have postponed the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions S. at Kempton, but it didn’t dramatically alter the composition of the European points race.

Redrawn for Wednesday (post time 2:10 p.m. EST), the one-mile Polytrack test has a largely familiar look, with the leading players back in the line-up along with one new contender taking advantage of the re-opening. Those leading players are the Triple Crown-nominated duo of Gronkowski and Three Weeks, both Kentucky-breds, and the opportunist is John Gosden’s Court House.

Gronkowski remains the one to beat, having romped in both of his starts on synthetic for Jeremy Noseda. His early foot, sharpened up by blinkers, should give him a tactical advantage with Jamie Spencer. Phoenix Thoroughbred’s 300,000-guinea breeze-up purchase is highly regarded enough to aim for an American points race, and Kempton has been part of the long-range plan.

“This has been the specific plan since he won (November 9) at Chelmsford,” Noseda said on his website last week.

“Newcastle was a prep race and he took a small step there,” the trainer added of his February 9 comeback score.

Wednesday’s race represents “a bigger step,” Noseda recognizes. “But I have a lot of faith in the horse and he is more than equipped to compete.

“He is in great shape, tip-top order. I couldn’t be happier with him and the track will suit too.”

The Tapit colt Three Weeks has profited from the postponement, since the six-day delay created an opportunity for ace pilot Ryan Moore to pick up the mount. Trained by William Haggas, the Apple Tree Stud homebred improved from an educational debut to win his next pair. As a closer, he has the opposite running style from Gronkowski.

Four other originals re-entered – Andrew Balding’s turf performer Fortune’s Pearl, fifth in the Tattersalls (G3) when last seen September 28 and now trying both synthetic and a mile for the first time; Bobby Biscuit, who showed a willing attitude when taking a recent course-and-distance novice; Ventura Knight, a four-time winner on turf for Mark Johnston; and exposed maiden Ambient.

Further form details for the six returnees are explored in the original preview of Kempton’s Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes. (Two of last week’s entrants, Jellmood and Morning Has Broken, have since been removed from consideration.)

Court House, a €200,000 Goffs Orby yearling by Dawn Approach, has now joined the party. The Princess Haya colorbearer might have a better than 2-for-4 record if not for his habit of breaking slowly. Court House did well to rally for sixth in his Kempton unveiling, considering how far back he was after flubbing the start. He put himself behind the proverbial eight-ball again at Chelmsford December 8, but finished well for second. Court House looked like learning his lesson in his January 4 maiden win at Newcastle, securing much better early position before overturning Godolphin’s odds-on Kaser. Last time in a Lingfield handicap, he reverted to his old habits, but was simply too good for them and got away with it. While it must be noted that Court House was receiving six pounds from runner-up Motown Mick, he won handsomely enough to hint he didn’t need that big a weight break. This is a stiffer class test though.

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As happened during the comparable entry stages last week, Aidan O’Brien gave Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) hero Mendelssohn, Seahenge, and Threeandfourpence preliminary entries at Kempton but took them out as of Monday’s final declarations. The three Triple Crown nominees were all put back in Friday’s rescheduled Patton S. at Dundalk, another Derby points race on the European Road that lured a potential field of 10. But again, stay tuned Thursday to see how many of those are actually declared to run. The March 31 UAE Derby (G2), offering 100 points to the winner on the main Kentucky Derby leaderboard, is very much in the equation too.

Both the Kempton and Dundalk races are worth points on a 20-8-4-2 scale, applicable to the European leaderboard only. The European Road to the Kentucky Derby concludes with the March 30 Burradon at Newcastle, with an enhanced points structure of 30-12-6-3. Only then will we know who gets the invitation to Derby 144 as the top scorer on the European Road.

Watch and wager on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions S. on TwinSpires.com