Kentucky Derby Next Stop for Burradon Stakes Winner Gronkowski

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 30th, 2018

The European Road to the Kentucky Derby wrapped up earlier today with the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle in England, and as was widely expected beforehand, the talented Gronkowski produced a strong finish to win going away and secure his spot in the Derby starting gate.

The one-mile Burradon featured markedly different conditions than what Gronkowski will face at Churchill Downs; for one, the race was held at a mile over a synthetic track, and for another, the race was held over a straight course with no turns.

Gronkowski showed that he can handle a turn while winning the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes at Kempton earlier this month, unleashing a big move around the turn to reach contention, but on that day he required plenty of time to lengthen his stride and pull away in the homestretch, a tendency that he displayed once again in the Burradon.

Facing nine rivals at Newcastle, Gronkowski was content to wait near the back of the pack as the talented filly Nyaleti set the pace in a compact field. The positions remained relatively unchanged until inside the final three furlongs, at which point jockey Jamie Spencer guided Gronkowski toward the grandstand rail and asked him to accelerate. The response wasn’t exactly immediate nor breathtaking, but Gronkowski gradually got underway and ground his way past the leaders to win by 1 ¼ lengths while stopping the clock in 1:37.49 seconds.

It should be noted that the straight course at Newcastle is generally downhill and the internal fractions of the race were quite fast as a result—the second quarter-mile was timed in :22.24 seconds and the third quarter-mile in :22.93, making it tricky for Gronkowski to gain any significant ground until the final two furlongs—but Gronkowski’s somewhat grinding style could be something to keep in mind when analyzing his Kentucky Derby chances. The Derby is often won by horses with the ability to put the race away with a big move coming off the far turn, and grinding late-runners tend to be at a disadvantage. Gronkowski in particular could find Churchill Downs a tricky course to handle since the homestretch is significantly shorter than what he is accustomed to in Europe.

All of that said, Gronkowski’s certainly has a winning instinct, as he’s rattled off four straight victories on synthetic tracks and has been improving with every start. With a reasonably dirt-oriented pedigree (his broodmare sire is 2010 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Lookin at Lucky), he does loom as one of the more intriguing international runners to target the Derby in recent years.

What did you think of Gronkowski’s Burradon Stakes victory?