December 5, 2022

Gronkowski, Blended Citizen breeze ahead of Belmont Stakes

Gronkowski is now New York-based (c) John Hoy

Listed winner GRONKOWSKI breezed a half-mile in :47.99 over Belmont Park’s fast main track on Saturday in his first official move since coming to the United Stakes in advance of the 150th Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 9.

The dark bay colt received an invite to run in the Kentucky Derby (G1) after scoring the most points on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby. However, he was forced to skip the first leg of the Triple Crown after developing an infection. Originally trained by Jeremy Noseda overseas, the Lonhro colt has been transferred to Chad Brown’s shedrow.

On Saturday, Brown sent Gronkowski out to work inside of Grade 3 winner Engage through an opening split of :24.40. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.20, according to NYRA clockers.

“He breezed great. It was his first work for us,” Brown said. “We gave him a couple of weeks to acclimate over here and get used to the main track, and it went better than expected.

“Not having had the horse very long, I’m limited to what I can do and what kind of training regimen I can set up. Based on this unique situation, I set up a plan that I feel is fair to try and get him to the race if he’s fit enough and good enough.

“It takes a special horse to get there, and based on what I saw today, he looked good out there,” he added. “I’m excited to see what he does next weekend. He came to me in outstanding condition. He’s a very sound and easy to transition into what we’re doing here. The horse is smart and all class, he has [the] true signs of a really good racehorse.”

Jockey Jose Oritz was aboard Gronkowski for the move.

“He was very pleased,” Brown said in regards to Ortiz. “It just worked out today that he could come out and work him. He gave me some really good feedback that was positive and helpful for me.”

Gronkowski is named for New England Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who bought a share into the horse prior to the Kentucky Derby.

Also breezing at Belmont Park on Saturday morning ahead of the third jewel of the Triple Crown was BLENDED CITIZEN. The Doug O’Neill-trained bay clocked a bullet half-mile in :47.55 over the fast main track in his first work since taking the Peter Pan Stakes (G3), the traditional local prep for the Belmont Stakes, on May 12.

Nick Esler was aboard for the move, which saw the Proud Citizen colt click off splits of :12.60 and :25 before galloping out five furlongs in 1:00 and three-quarters in 1:13, according to a pleased O’Neill.

Blended Citizen was unable to factor in his initial three starts on dirt at Del Mar and Santa Anita Park last year, but showed new life when transferred to turf and synthetic surfaces for his five efforts, including a win in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) over Turfway Park’s all-weather Polytrack.

O’Neill added blinkers to Blended Citizen’s equipment for the Jeff Ruby Steaks and kept them on while switching the sophomore back to dirt following that March 17 effort. The Kentucky-bred colt responded with a fifth in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) on April 7 at Keeneland before taking the Peter Pan last out.

“He’s always worked well on the dirt,” O’Neill said via email. “I think the blinkers helped him focus and not run immaturely or spotty. The blinkers also helped the rider place him in his races easier (and have) more early speed away from the gate.”

Wood Memorial (G2) winner VINO ROSSO and Louisiana Derby (G2) hero NOBLE INDY exited their in-company Friday move in good order for trainer Todd Pletcher. The duo clocked a bullet half-mile in :47.04 over the fast main track.

“We’ve always felt like the mile and a half was going to suit him well,” Pletcher said of Vino Rosso. “He’s closely related to Commissioner, who ran a big race in the Belmont here. He’s a son of Curlin, who also ran a big race in the Belmont, so it gives us optimism that he’ll handle the distance.

“I don’t think his Derby (ninth-place finish) was a bad race,” he added. “It seemed he never really enjoyed the going and he wasn’t beaten a horrible amount. I said afterwards that I don’t think I’ve ever had a horse come back from a race with as much mud as he had in his eyes. We kept flushing them and flushing them, trying to clean them out for days, and mud just kept coming out. I thought in spite of that, he ran a steady race. He never could get any traction to make an impact.”

Pletcher said Vino Rosso and Noble Indy are scheduled for their final Belmont Stakes breeze on Friday, weather permitting.

Florida Derby (G1) runner-up HOFBURG walked trainer Bill Mott’s shedrow on Saturday, one day after breezing six furlongs in 1:13.43 over the fast Oklahoma dirt training track at Saratoga.

“He looked good this morning,” Mott said. “He had a good, solid work yesterday, so we gave him a day off from the track.”

Hofburg is scheduled to return to the track on Sunday for a gallop and, according to Mott, have another breeze either next Friday, Saturday or Sunday, depending on the weather.

“Hopefully, one out of the three days, we’ll get a good one,” Mott said.