Gronkowski Clinches Kentucky Derby Berth

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Gronkowski before earning his place in the Kentucky Derby with a win in the Burradon Stakes. (Eclipse Sportswire)

A late change in racing plans didn't bother the equine Gronkowski March 30 at Newcastle in England, where the Kentucky-bred racehorse rallied to a clear victory in the 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.

The Burradon start was actually Plan B for the connections of the Lonhro colt, owner Phoenix Thoroughbreds and trainer Jeremy 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 at Keeneland or the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct

But Feb. 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.

Gronkowski also closed out 2017 with a win. He's perfect in four starts on synthetic surfaces after earning a runner-up finish in a pair of turf starts to launch his career.

Bred by Epic Thoroughbreds, Gronkowski is the first starter out of the unraced Lookin At Lucky mare Four Sugars, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Flashy Bull and stakes winner Pink Viper.

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 was consigned by Lynn Lodge Stud.

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