Phoenix Thoroughbred Limited's Gronkowski put in his final workout before the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, breezing five furlongs in 1:01.87 on Saturday morning at Belmont Park's main track.
It was the Chad Brown trainee's second work since arriving at Belmont, having breezed four furlongs in 47.99 seconds last Saturday. Jockey Jose Ortiz, who will have the call on Gronkowski in the Belmont Stakes, was up again.
Gronkowski worked in company with Engage, who is targeting the Grade 2, $400,000 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on Belmont Stakes Day, June 9.
“It went well, galloped out a good three-quarters and I was real happy with it,” Brown said of Gronkowski. “This horse hasn't put a foot wrong since he's arrived. He's a real classy horse and came to me in outstanding condition.”
Gronkowski will be making his first North American start after going 4-1-0 in six career races in Great Britain. The son of the Australian-bred Lonhro, who won 11 Group 1 races from 2001-04, will be stretching out to the Belmont Stakes' famed 1 ½-mile distance after winning four consecutive races at one mile.
“Based on his two workouts, he's made to go a mile and a half on the dirt to me,” said Brown, who took over training duties from Jeremy Noseda last month. “In a perfect world, I wish I had him longer and had a better handle on the horse, but it is what it is and I'm fortunate to be in this position to go there with a chance to win.”
Gronkowski had been scheduled to work Friday morning before a driving rainstorm led Brown to move the work, which was held Saturday in the sunshine with temperatures in the high 70s.
“I was ready to breeze him yesterday, but then the rain came, but it worked out,” Brown said. “Today was always the day I preferred to work him anyway.”
Ortiz will be going for his second consecutive Belmont Stakes win after piloting Tapwrit to the winner's circle in the “Test of the Champion” last year. Brown said he again received positive feedback from his rider, who will be looking to become the first jockey to win consecutive Belmont Stakes since Laffit Pincay, Jr. won three straight from 1982-84.
“He likes the horse and was as impressed with him as I was, and he felt the longer, the better for him,” Brown said.
Gronkowski's last race was a 1 1/4-length score on March 30 at Newscastle. After changing owners, and continents, the namesake of Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski is working on an accelerated timeline going into a high-profile race in which he attempts to thwart Justify's bid for the 13th Triple Crown in history.
“I had the opportunity to train him a couple of weeks before I worked him. I could have squeezed three breezes in, but I just didn't feel the horse was completely acclimated over here yet, so I went with caution and did two works,” Brown said. “I wanted to make sure he was ready to work, and he was. Based on what I see, he looks pretty fit. There's some unknowns – he did miss some time – and coming off a layoff going a mile-and-a-half, that's about as tough of a task as you can ask a horse to do. But he's a high-quality horse, so maybe he's good enough to do it.”
#BelmontStakes150 contender, Gronkowski worked inside of G2 Woody Stephens presented by @MoheganSun contender, Engage this morning going 5F in 1:01.87 for trainer Chad Brown @jose93_ortiz@PhoenixThoroug1pic.twitter.com/rQet9eXhgs
— Belmont Stakes (@BelmontStakes) June 2, 2018
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