Gronkowski delights his new trainer Brown to earn place in Belmont
A potential fly in the ointment to Justify's Triple Crown bid has emerged with Gronkowski, one of 14 horses removed from Jeremy Noseda's Newmarket yard by owners Phoenix Thoroughbreds this month, set to make his belated US debut in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
Gronkowski had been due to contest the Kentucky Derby until a late setback and has since joined top US trainer Chad Brown, for whom he put in an impressive first workout on Belmont Park's main track at the weekend.
"He breezed great," reported the trainer. "We gave him a couple of weeks to acclimatise and get used to the main track, and it went better than expected."
Gronkowski, named after New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski, who bought into the horse weeks before the Kentucky Derby, worked with two-time stakes winner Engage, going four furlongs in 47.99sec.
Winner of the last four of his six races, most recently in the Listed Burradon Stakes at Newcastle, Gronkowski will be tackling a mile and a half for the first time as he comes up against Justify, winner of the first two legs of the Triple Crown in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
"Not having had the horse very long, I'm limited to what I can do and what kind of training regime I can set up," said Brown. "Based on this unique situation I set up a plan that I feel is fair to try to get him to the race if he's fit enough and good enough.
"It takes a special horse to get there, and based on what I saw today he looked good out there. I'm excited to see what he does."
He added: "He came to me in outstanding condition. He's very sound and easy to transition into what we're doing here. The horse is smart and all class. He has the true signs of a really good racehorse."
So who is Rob Gronkowski?
Occupation Superstar American footballer with New England Patriots
Honours Two-time Super Bowl winner (XLIX and LI)
NFL records include most touchdowns by a tight end in a season (18) and most receiving yards by a tight end in a season (1,327), both set in 2011
What he says about his equine namesake “I’ve never dealt with horses. Hopefully I can get a ride on him. I just want to get the feel of what it’s like to be on top of one."
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