A late change in racing plans didn't bother Gronkowski March 30 at Newcastle, where the Kentucky-bred rallied to a clear victory in the 32Red Burradon Stakes.
With the win in the final European Road to the Kentucky Derby points race, Gronkowski stayed perfect in three starts on synthetic surfaces this season and punched his ticket to the Louisville classic.
"We've had this dream, and now the dream is alive," trainer Jeremy Noseda told At The Races, confirming they'd stick with the plan of starting in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) May 5 at Churchill Downs. "We'll go to Kentucky and it will be a huge task and a huge ask, but it's what we set out to do. We're going to try and 'Run for the Roses' underneath the Twin Spires. It's always been a dream of mine, and I'm looking forward to it."
The Burradon start was actually Plan B for the connections of the Lonhro colt, owner Phoenix Thoroughbreds and Noseda. After Gronkowski won the Road to the Kentucky Derby conditions stakes March 7 at Kempton Park, Noseda planned to ship him to the United States for a start in either the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland or the Wood Memorial Presented by NYRA Bets (G2) at Aqueduct Racetrack.
But March 23 Noseda said he'd changed his mind, in part because of a misunderstanding about the Derby qualifying points system. Points earned in the European Road to the Kentucky Derby do not cross over to the main Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
"We've had to change our plans due to the Kentucky Derby points system," Noseda said on his website.
Any nervousness from the connections about the late change in plans didn't show up in their horse Friday. Jockey Jamie Spencer settled Gronkowski near the back in the field of 10, contesting a straight mile on a Tapeta suface. With just more than a quarter-mile remaining, Spencer guided Gronkowski out to the stands side of the course, and the colt responded to the open room, quickly improving his position.
After that move to engage the leaders, Gronkowski steadily wore them down before finally opening a clear advantage at the wire to score by 1 1/4 lengths over longshot Iconic Sunset, who just edged third-place Dark Acclaim for the runner-up spot. Iconic Sunset earned his first stakes-placing, and Dark Acclaim finished third for the second time in a stakes race.
Gronkowski also closed out 2017 with a win. He's perfect in four starts on synthetic surfaces after earning a runner-up finish from a pair of turf starts to launch his career. Noseda believes he has yet to deliver his top effort.
"It sounds strange, but I haven't yet seen on the racetrack what I believe this horse is capable of. I'm sure there's more to come," Noseda told At The Races. "We'll go and sharpen up and get ready for Kentucky now. We'll need a much better effort, but I'm sure we can do ourselves justice. He hasn't got real gears, but if he can get into a rhythm, he can keep in a rhythm a long time."
Gronkowski sold three times at public auction before his racing career. As a weanling, he was purchased by Margaret O'Toole for $75,000 at the 2015 Keeneland November breeding stock sale from the Trackside Farm consignment. He then sold for 50,000 guineas ($67,416) to Peter and Ross Doyle Bloodstock as a yearling at the 2016 Tattersalls October sale, where he was consigned by Lynn Lodge Stud, agent.
Kerri Radcliffe Bloodstock then purchased Gronkowski for his current owner when she went to 300,000 guineas ($404,492) at the 2017 Tattersalls Craven April breeze-up sale, where he again was consigned by Lynn Lodge Stud.