July 25, 2024

Brown eyeing Travers for Gronkowski; Pletcher duo, other also-rans exit Belmont Stakes well

Justify and jockey Mike Smith win the Belmont Stakes (G1), with Gronkowski (center) finishing second and Hofburg (left) third at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 9, 2018 (c) Uli Seit/Horsephotos.com

Listed winner GRONKOWSKI made his belated U.S. debut on Saturday in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park, and the dark bay colt gave fans something to cheer for as he made a sweeping rail move to try and challenge eventual winner Justify.

Though Gronkowski came up 1 3/4 lengths short on the wire, trainer Chad Brown was still full of praise for his charge one day after the “Test of the Champion.”

“I’m very proud of the way the horse ran,” Brown said. “He ran an incredible race from where he was to make up that much ground. (Jockey) Jose (Ortiz) effectively saved all the ground and he was coming rapidly up the rail.

“As he was making a good run of it I was really hoping he would sustain it. I thought he had a chance to go by in the stretch, but it wasn’t to be. Just short of the wire he seemed to get a little tired after that big, sustained run.”

Gronkowski was points leader on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, and as such received an invite to participate in the Run for the Roses. His namesake, New England Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, even purchased a “significant stake” in the colt prior to the Derby, but the sophomore came down with an infection that forced him to miss the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Subsequently transferred from trainer Jeremy Noseda in England to Brown, he showed up at Belmont Park on Saturday and ran in the rear of the field early, beaten 14 3/4 lengths by pacesetter Justify at one point, before putting in a furious rally heading into the final bend and taking down second.

“I’m glad our horse gave (Rob Gronkowski, who watched the Belmont Stakes in person) a good thrill,” Brown said. “(The horse) didn’t disappoint anybody.

“I can only think about what might have happened if the horse had won, for horse racing and for everyone involved. But it’s good for racing to have a Triple Crown winner. We did our best to upend it, but it just didn’t work out. (Justify), my hat’s off to him. He ran a large number of races in a short amount of time with no two-year-old foundation.

“(Justify) overcame a lot. He was managed so well by Bob (Baffert) and his staff. He’s a remarkable horse to run in all three legs as well as he did.”

Brown isn’t saying definitively where Gronkowski will show up next, but the August 25 Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga is a likely target down the road.

“My first thought is that the Travers would be a good race for this horse if he were to break better and get a better pace to run at,” Brown said. “It’s a race I would love to win, and it looks like it would suit this horse. How we get from this race to the Travers, I haven’t decided yet. But that’s the race I have in my mind. I’ll discuss it with the owners.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher had a pair of runners entered in the Belmont Stakes, and VINO ROSSO did the best of the two when fourth on the finish line Saturday. That colt, along with stablemate NOBLE INDY, exited the third jewel of the Triple Crown in good order.

“Excellent. They’re both in good shape today,” Pletcher said. “(Justify) got into that rhythm and was able to slow it down through a half (in :48.11), and that made him awfully hard to beat.”

Vino Rosso stalked the pace on the backstretch before ranging up to challenge but couldn’t keep up with the top two. He just missed third when Hofburg rallied on his outside to stick a neck in front on the wire.

“I thought Vino Rosso ran well,” Pletcher said. “(Jockey) Johnny (Velazquez) took a shot on the middle of the turn and tried to put some pressure on the winner and it might have cost him a position.”

Noble Indy brushed the gate at the start, raced in the first flight behind the front runners but faded on the final bend to be 10th and last at the finish line.

“I was a little disappointed in the way he behaved in the paddock and the post parade. He never really fired,” Pletcher said, referencing how keyed up Noble Indy was before the race. “It’s not totally out of character for him. He’s one that we’ve done a lot of work with, and yesterday just seemed like the crowd and everything got to him a little bit.”

Pletcher was noncommittal on what’s next for the pair.

“We’re not really sure yet,” he said. “We’ll kind of let the dust settle and decide what we’re going to do.”

BRAVAZO has been the closest to Justify at the finish line than any other runner to date, coming in second by only a half-length in the Preakness Stakes. He also just held that spot by a neck over TENFOLD, but on Saturday Tenfold got the best of Bravazo by 1 1/4 lengths on the Belmont wire when finishing fifth.

“He is a lovely horse and a beautiful physical specimen. He was beaten in a great race by a great horse and we’ll regroup,” trainer Steve Asmussen said of Tenfold. “There are a lot of races left for him.”

Both Tenfold and Bravazo were doing well on Sunday.

“The horse is fine. He’s doing well this morning,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said of his charge, Bravazo. “This chapter came to a close and this fall, it will be something different. There are lots of races ahead and lots of dances left. We’ll be back. We’ll be at Saratoga all meet and this horse will be up there.”

Besides Justify, Bravazo was the only sophomore this year to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown.

“We just got beat by a very good horse yesterday,” Lukas said. “The best horse won and he demonstrated he is the best all spring. I am happy for Bob (Baffert). When the best horse wins like that it’s fine. It’s part of the game. We all enjoyed it.”

Bravazo was scheduled to leave Belmont Park at 5:30 a.m. Sunday morning for a 15-hour van ride back to Churchill Downs, but a mechanical problem delayed his departure by more than two hours.