February 22, 2024

Gronkowski, Disco Partner top draws in Aqueduct stakes

Belmont Stakes-runner-up Gronkowski (Photos by Z)

The $400,000 Long Island (G3) is the richest of three stakes at Aqueduct on Saturday, but the relative star power will be found in the supporting features.

Gronkowski, runner-up to Triple Crown winner Justify in the Belmont Stakes (G1) in his U.S. debut, takes a significant drop in class for the $200,000 Discovery (G3), a nine-furlong test for three-year-olds. The Chad Brown trainee disappointed in two follow-up starts, finishing eighth in the Travers (G1) and sixth in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in his return to Belmont.

“He’s been training well,” Brown said. “I’m hoping the cut back in distance will be okay. He’s been training pretty sharp and it seems like the right thing to do with him right now. Hopefully, he’ll get a good forward position and go on from there.”

Life’s a Parlay, winner in two of three starts for Todd Pletcher, and Plainsman, who has won two straight allowances since joining the Brad Cox stable, are among his challengers.

Disco Partner, a distant third over testing ground in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) earlier this month, will be a heavy favorite to win the $150,000 Aqueduct Turf Sprint Championship over six furlongs. The gray six-year-old is six-for-nine at the distance, including two victories each in the Jaipur (G2) and Belmont Turf Sprint for Christophe Clement.

“He came out of his Breeders’ Cup race in good shape,” Clement said. “I thought it was a fair effort despite not running on his preferred ground. Thankfully, we’ve had some dry weather here over the last week and he is training very well. This will be the last start of the year for him before shipping to Payson Park over the winter, so we’ll look to finish strong.”

Hembree, winner of the Nearctic (G2) at Woodbine prior to running 10th in the Turf Sprint, is another that figures to attract significant support. Also in the field are Belmont Turf Sprint runner-up Blind Ambition and Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint second-place finisher White Flag.

The three-year-old Pollara, sixth in last month’s E.P. Taylor (G1) at Woodbine off a four-month layoff, could be fitter for the 1 3/8-mile Long Island on the turf. The Chad Brown pupil captured the Prix de Royaumont (G3) at Chantilly in June prior to her importation.

Brown also sends out two other imports. Lady Paname, who placed in the Prix de Royaumont in 2017, won off a year-plus break in an entry-level allowance at Belmont October 17, albeit by a nose. Night of England makes her U.S. debut off a second in the German Oaks (G1) two back.

Also in the mix are Lady Montdore, winner of the Glens Falls (G2) two back and third last out in the Flower Bowl (G1), and Tricky Escape, who won three straight stakes for trainer Lynn Ashby prior to a sixth in the Flower Bowl.