03/08/2018 11:18AM

Kempton stakes winner Gronkowski headed to U.S. to make run at Kentucky Derby


Gronkowski won the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes on Wednesday at Kempton Park in England, and became the co-leader in points on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby.

This was the fifth of seven races that form the new European Road to the Kentucky Derby. As with the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby, which was first run last year, the European Road to the Kentucky Derby reserves one of the 20 Derby starting gate spots to the leading point earner in the series whose connections want to run in the Derby. There was no such Japanese horse last year, but the Gronkowski camp already has expressed their interest.

Thursday morning, Gronkowski’s trainer, Jeremy Noseda, posted on his Twitter feed that Gronkowski had come out of his race in good order and was likely to make his next start either in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland or the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

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Gronkowski got 20 points for winning Wednesday, putting him atop the leaderboard with Saxon Warrior, a top European turf prospect expected to stay on his own side of the Atlantic this spring. Court House, who was second by three-quarters of a length in the Kempton race Wednesday, got eight points.

Wednesday’s race was delayed one week because of wintry conditions. The Patton Stakes at Dundalk in Ireland, another race in the series worth 20 points to the winner, also had to be rescheduled and was pushed back a week from March 2.

Among the eight final entrants in the Patton Stakes over one mile Friday night on Dundalk’s all-weather surface is Mendelssohn, the most prominent overseas horse whose connections have expressed Derby hopes.

Mendelssohn won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf to cap his 2-year-old season but has no Derby qualifying points either through the primary Road to the Kentucky Derby or on the European Road. A points tie is broken by earnings in unrestricted stakes, where Mendelssohn would have an edge over anyone else vying for the European slot, but there also is the final race in the series to account for, the Burradon Stakes on March 30 at Newcastle.

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That race is worth 30 points to the winner, 12 for second, 6 for third, and 3 for fourth. Aidan O’Brien, Mendelssohn’s trainer, often runs horses in the $2 million UAE Derby at Meydan, which is a major qualifier on the main Road to the Kentucky Derby. A UAE Derby win, worth 100 points, assures a horse of a Derby spot, and 40 points for second all but does so, too.

As for Gronkowski, Noseda trains him for Phoenix Thoroughbreds, and Jamie Spencer rode him to victory Wednesday in a one-turn 1,600-meter race over Kempton’s all-weather surface. Gronkowski got very rank racing near the back of the field in the early going. Around the turn, Spencer let him make a bold move up to a pressing position in second place. Gronkowski needed most of the homestretch to pull clear, and he crossed over to the rail with a furlong or so to go, briefly impeding Court House, who was gaining at the finish.

Gronkowski, by Lonhro out of the Lookin at Lucky mare Four Sugars, lost two starts on turf to begin his career last year but has won his last three races, all over all-weather surfaces.