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The Journal Gazette

Friday, June 08, 2018 1:00 am

Gronkowski - the horse - ready to race

TOM CANAVAN | Associated Press

Belmont Stakes

When: 6:37 p.m. (approximate)

Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

Distance: 1.5 miles

Surface: Dirt

TV: NBC

NEW YORK – Raised in upstate New York, Chad Brown didn't root for the Bills, the Giants or the Jets when it came to football.

The 39-year-old from Mechanicville was a San Francisco 49ers fan. It was simple. He liked future Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, although football didn't turn out to be Brown's sport.

Brown has become one of thoroughbred racing's top trainers, and his favorite football team now is the New England Patriots. It has nothing to do with Tom Brady.

It's all about Gronkowski, both of them. He likes tight end Rob and the 3-year-old colt named after him who will be a fan favorite Saturday in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.

Whether Gronkowski can challenge Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify and prevent him from becoming the sport's 13th Triple Crown winner remains to be seen.

The name of the horse adds interest to the final jewel of the Triple Crown, of course.

“It works for him,” Brown said of the name. “He is going to pick up a few extra fans and that feels good. I am happy people are rooting for him because of his name.”

The Kentucky-bred colt has never raced in North America. He has had six starts in England, winning four races and finishing second once. An illness forced him to skip the Kentucky Derby.

Phoenix Thoroughbred Ltd., the owners of Gronkowski, decided after the Derby to move the colt out of the barn of Jeremy Noseda in mid-May. Brown has spent the last three-plus weeks getting the colt ready to run again.

While Gronkowski arrived in good condition and has trained extremely well, Brown would have preferred a little more training time.

“If the horse has enough foundation behind him, he is the kind of a horse that can run a mile and a half on the dirt,” Brown said Thursday after Gronkowski galloped. “Is he ready for Saturday? We'll see.”

Brown said the owners of Gronkowski gave him the option of skipping the Belmont if he felt the colt was not ready. He elected to run.

Brown has an idea of what will happen in the race. Gronkowski will run a little behind the leaders and grind out the first 1 1/4 miles. It's the last quarter that's a concern for a colt that has never run longer than a mile in a race.

“This was a very unique situation,” Brown said. “This was a horse that was on the Derby trail and then off, and now here on short notice. It really takes a special horse to be able to catch up to speed and be able to run in a race like Saturday. Based on what I have seen so far, I do feel like he is up to it.”

Rob Gronkowski, who is a part owner of the colt, is expected to attend. He's also excited.

“It's pretty wild,” Gronkowski said Tuesday after a Patriots practice. “I heard about the horse like a year ago and I saw it, and I was like 'that's cool,' you know?”