Gronkowski wins the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park (Kempton Park/John Hoy Photo)

Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes winner Gronkowski

by Alastair Bull

When Gronkowski began his racing career, it’s no surprise his connections tried him on turf first. But after three undefeated starts on synthetic tracks, it seems like dirt – and the Kentucky Derby – could be in the cards.

Named for the New England Patriots superstar, Gronkowski was sold at the Keeneland November sale as a weanling and taken to Europe. Given that his sire, the outstanding Australian racehorse and stallion Lonhro, has primarily produced turf horses from his U.S.-conceived crops, it was natural to assume that’s where Gronkowski would head.

He went through the sale ring twice in Europe – finally sold to Phoenix Thoroughbred Ltd. for more than $400,000 at the Tattersalls Craven Breeze Up sale last year – and began his career on turf, finishing seventh on debut and second at his next start.

Trainer Jeremy Noseda then switched him to synthetic tracks, and he transformed, winning his first three starts. The third was the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton Park, which took him to the top of the inaugural European Road to the Kentucky Derby series with 20 points.

Gronkowski would appear to get his dirt ability from the distaff side of his pedigree. His dam, the unraced mare Four Sugars, is by Lookin At Lucky, the champion U.S. 2-year-old and 3-year-old of his crop. Many of his progeny have not only excelled on dirt, they have also shown an ability to stay 1 ¼ miles. They include last year’s Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin At Lee.

Four Sugars is out of Iridescence (Mt Livermore), whose best two progeny were also dirt horses: the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) winner Flashy Bull (Holy Bull), and the Count Fleet Stakes winner Pink Viper.

There will be a little doubt about Gronkowski’s ability to stay 1 ¼ miles based on his sire’s statistics. Lonhro is a very good sire, having produced more than 70 stakes winners, but most of them have not only been on turf, but up to one mile. However, he has produced some horses that could run up to 1 ¼ miles, notably the U.S.-bred Isotherm.

Gronkowski could seal the European Road to the Kentucky Derby slot at Churchill Downs in the Burradon Stakes March 30, but Noseda has indicated he may send the colt to the United States instead. Wherever he goes, his next Kentucky Derby prep should be watched with interest.