December 5, 2022

Blended Citizen, Gronkowski post final major Belmont Stakes moves

Blended Citizen breezes five furlongs under jockey Mike Luzzi on Saturday in 1:00.64 at Belmont Park (c) Kathleen O'Leary/Horsephotos.com

Dual Grade 3 winner BLENDED CITIZEN breezed five furlongs on Saturday over the fast main track at Belmont Park in 1:00.64 with jockey Mike Luzzi in the irons.

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The Doug O’Neill-trained son of Proud Citizen worked one week out from an expected start in the 150th Belmont Stakes (G1). He took to the track at 12:45 p.m. (ET), prior to the 1ST race on Saturday, in his final major move for the third jewel of the Triple Crown.

Blended Citizen began his work from the half-mile pole at Belmont and proceeded to tick off splits of :12:65, :24.25 and :47.93 before galloping out six furlongs in 1:17.58, according to NYRA clockers.

“He covers a lot of ground. He’s a Cadillac,” Luzzi said. “Obviously we know he likes the track. I wish the best of luck to them next week.”

Luzzi won’t be in Blended Citizen’s saddle for the Belmont Stakes; that job resides with jockey Kyle Frey, who has piloted the colt in his past four starts, including wins in the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway Park and Peter Pan Stakes (G3) at Big Sandy.

“I definitely consider the Triple Crown races to be the pinnacle of it all as far as horse racing in America goes,” said Frey, who will be riding in his first Grade 1 when piloting Blended Citizen in the Belmont Stakes. “It’s definitely an honor to just be a part of it.

“I think he’s coming into himself, coming into his own both mentally and physically,” he added about Blended Citizen. “Things are lining up perfectly for him. Everything is kind of falling into place in the nick of time. I think he’s really maturing, and he’s really figuring it out.

“His stride is ridiculous. It’s amazing; one of his is like two on another horse. With those long-distance races, I think those horses can cover more ground without using themselves up.”

Assistant trainer Leandro Mora, who flew in from California for the work, was pleased with the move.

“What I like is how easily he did it,” Mora said. “It was nice, I’m very pleased. He wasn’t even making noise going by. I like how he went past the wire. That’s when you know you have a legit horse. I like what I saw.

“We don’t school horses like some trainers,” Mora added in regards to the afternoon breeze. “If we work a horse prior or between races, or before the first race, we do it like a race, so they think they went through it, but they didn’t go through the hassle. They come back to the barn, they’ve gone through the workout, and it’s a whole psychological thing for them.”

Blended Citizen has proven a triple-surface threat in his 10-race career thus far. The Kentucky-bred bay, who is a half-brother to last year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) second, Lookin at Lee, has won on dirt (Peter Pan), synthetic (Jeff Ruby Steaks) and turf (maiden).

“We tried him on dirt, we thought he was just no good on dirt. So Doug put him on the grass and he won,” Mora said. “(The owners) talked to Doug, and he said if you want to make it to the Kentucky Derby, let’s do it like Animal Kingdom did. Run around synthetic, and try to qualify, and enjoy the Derby.

“Once we didn’t get in (to the Derby), the owners brought up the (July 7 Belmont Derby Invitational [G1]) on the grass. Doug said, ‘What about the Peter Pan?’ and the owners said, ‘Let’s go.’

“This is a late-developing horse,” Mora added. “He was just a slow learner.”

Listed winner GRONKOWSKI also visited Belmont Park’s fast main track on Saturday, recording his second move since transferring overseas from Jeremy Noseda to Chad Brown.

The dark bay son of Lonhro breezed five furlongs in 1:01.87 ahead of the Belmont Stakes on June 9. With race rider Jose Ortiz aboard, he worked in company with Grade 3 scorer Engage, who was awarded the same time in readiness for the Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) on the Belmont undercard.

On May 26, Gronkowski covered a half-mile in :47.99 at Belmont Park in his first move for Brown.

“It went well, galloped out a good three-quarters and I was real happy with it,” Brown said of Gronkowski’s most recent breeze. “Based on his two workouts, he’s made to go a mile and a half on the dirt to me.”

The horseman called an audible and switched Gronkowski’s scheduled work on Friday to Saturday due to a morning rainstorm.

“I was ready to breeze him yesterday, but then the rain came, but it worked out,” Brown said. “Today was always the day I preferred to work him anyway.”

Gronkowski was the leading points earner on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby and was all set to take up the invite to the Run for the Roses. His namesake, Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, even bought into the colt while he was pointing to the Derby. Unfortunately, the Kentucky-bred came down with an infection and had to skip the first jewel of the Triple Crown and was subsequently switched from Noseda to Brown.

“This horse hasn’t put a foot wrong since he’s arrived. He’s a real classy horse and came to me in outstanding condition,” Brown said. “In a perfect world, I wish I had him longer and had a better handle on the horse, but it is what it is and I’m fortunate to be in this position to go there with a chance to win.”

Gronkowski enters the Belmont Stakes boasting a three-for-three mark on the year. His last race came March 30, when he captured the Burradon Stakes at Newmarket going a mile. He’s never raced beyond eight furlongs.

“I had the opportunity to train him a couple of weeks before I worked him,” Brown said. “I could have squeezed three breezes in, but I just didn’t feel the horse was completely acclimated over here yet, so I went with caution and did two works. I wanted to make sure he was ready to work, and he was.

“Based on what I see, he looks pretty fit. There’s some unknowns – he did miss some time – and coming off a layoff going a mile-and-a-half, that’s about as tough of a task as you can ask a horse to do. But he’s a high-quality horse, so maybe he’s good enough to do it.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher sent his pair of Belmont stakes hopefuls out for breezes on Friday despite the rain and the duo were doing well on Saturday morning.

Grade 3 winners NOBLE INDY and VINO ROSSO both breezed five furlongs over Belmont’s good dirt training track on Friday while in company, just not in company with each other as in their prior move. Noble Indy clocked a bullet time of 1:01.22 while Vino Rosso went in 1:01.55.

“I thought everyone came back well,” Pletcher said of all the workers he sent out on Friday. “I was pleased with the morning we had, and everyone seems to be on course for what they are on course for.”

The field for the 2018 Belmont Stakes will be drawn Tuesday evening. Expected to show up in the drawing are (in alphabetical order with jockeys): Bandua (TBD), Blended Citizen (Kyle Frey), Bravazo (Luis Saez), Free Drop Billy (Robby Albarado), Gronkowski (Jose Ortiz), Hofburg (Irad Ortiz Jr.), Justify (Mike Smith), Noble Indy (Javier Castellano), Restoring Hope (Florent Geroux), Seahenge (Ryan Moore), Tenfold (Ricardo Santana Jr.) and Vino Rosso (John Velazquez).