Gronkowski nearly caught Justify in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes (c) Photos by Z
Leading up to the Kentucky Derby (G1), the buzz surrounding European Road to the Kentucky Derby leader GRONKOWSKI rose to a crescendo. It only got louder when New England Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski purchased “a substantial stake” in his namesake Thoroughbred.
“This horse is a winner and I love a winner,” said Rob Gronkowski on the Gronk Nation website prior to the Derby. “When I heard about the racehorse being named after me, I started watching and got really stoked when he started winning. He’s won his last three races and is now headed to the Derby.
“I’m all in: Welcome to the Gronk Family, Gronkowski the Horse!”
Unfortunately, the buzz died with a whimper when the dark bay colt came down with an infection that forced him to miss the Run for the Roses.
Fast forward five weeks and the noise around Gronkowski the horse heading into the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes (G1) was nowhere near as loud, not with Justify dominating most of the conversation as he sought to give trainer Bob Baffert a second sweep of the Triple Crown in just four years.
Well, Gronkowski nearly upset the historic victory when he put in a sustained move on the backstretch that was reminiscent of Mine That Bird’s 50-1 upset in the 2009 Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky-bred son of Lonhro found himself racing in the rear of the Belmont Stakes field on Saturday after brushing the gate at the start. Instead of rushing his mount up, jockey Jose Ortiz settled him well behind the others, at one point 14 3/4 lengths adrift of pacesetter Justify.
“He broke a bit slow. He’s a horse from England,” Ortiz explained. “After that, I didn’t have any choice. I had to drop in and save all the ground.”
Around about the half-mile pole, Gronkowski decided it was time to put the pressure on, and boy-howdy did he!
The dark bay colt suddenly accelerated, angled over to the rail from his two path and swept on by everyone except for Justify. And for a moment it appeared like he would keep right on motoring past that rival as well.
However, Justify proved too good, going on to score by 1 3/4 lengths over Gronkowski.
“He handled the dirt. I worked him twice and he handled it, so I was optimistic. We got a good trip, it worked out well,” Ortiz said.
“He broke a bit slow. I wish he would have broke a little bit better.”
The break may have cost Gronkowski or it may not have. At this point it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that the colt came over from England and nearly upset the Belmont Stakes and Triple Crown in just his first start stateside while running on dirt for the first time.
Now that’s something to make some noise about.