ELMONT, N.Y. – On the morning following Gronkowski‘s runner-up performance in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, trainer Chad Brown was thinking about what could have been and what could be ahead for the colt owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred III and named for All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski.
“I’m glad our horse gave him [Rob Gronkowski, who watched the Belmont Stakes in person] a good thrill,” said Brown. “[The horse] didn’t disappoint anybody. I can only think about what might have happened if the horse had won, for horse racing and for everyone involved. But it’s good for racing to have a Triple Crown winner. We did our best to upend it, but it just didn’t work out. [Justify], my hat’s off to him. He ran a large number of races in a short amount of time with no 2-year-old foundation. This horse overcame a lot. He was managed so well by Bob [Baffert] and his staff. He’s a remarkable horse to run in all three legs as well as he did.”
Gronkowski, who made his North American debut in the Belmont Stakes, broke slowly from the gate and lagged in 10th before commencing a rally to finish 1 ¾ lengths behind Justify.
“I’m very proud of the way the horse ran,” said Brown. “He ran an incredible race from where he was to make up that much ground. [Jockey] Jose [Ortiz] effectively saved all the ground and he was coming rapidly up the rail. As he was making a good run of it I was really hoping he would sustain it. I thought he had a chance to go by in the stretch, but it wasn’t to be. Just short of the wire he seemed to get a little tired after that big, sustained run.”
While Brown hasn’t made any immediate plans for Gronkowski, the trainer has August 25, the date of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga Race Course, circled on his calendar.
“My first thought is that the Travers would be a good race for this horse if he were to break better and get a better pace to run at,” said Brown. “It’s a race I would love to win, and it looks like it would suit this horse. How we get from this race to the Travers, I haven’t decided yet. But that’s the race I have in my mind. I’ll discuss it with the owners.”
Brown is eyeing a different race at Saratoga for A Raving Beauty, a three-quarter-length winner of the Grade 1, one-mile Longines Just a Game in her second start in North America. The 5-year-old mare could target the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana on July 21, Brown said.
“It’s a strong possibility to get her out to a mile and an eighth, and the timing [for the Diana] probably works fine,” said Brown. “We already have won a Grade 1 with her, and we’re going to find another race that fits her.”
A Raving Beauty is owned by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, and Bethlehem Stables. She was purchased by Mandore International Agency for $264,915 at an Aqana mixed breeding stock sale in December after making 17 starts in Europe, including a pair of stakes wins in Germany and a third last October in Italy’s Group 1 Premio Lydia Tesio, her final start in Europe. She won the Grade 3 Beaugay by three lengths on May 12 at Belmont in her North American debut.
“She’s been a work in progress since she came over,” said Brown. “She has improved rapidly. She has become real good, real fast. A fine addition to the barn. We’re so lucky to have her. [The owners] have made two starts with her and already have a Grade 1, so they are doing well with her.”
Plans for Martin Schwartz’s Off Limits, fourth in the Longines Just a Game, will be determined at a later date.
“She’s been disappointing after such a strong year last year,” said Brown. “She’s trying to find her form again. She was really far back earlier. The race didn’t set up well for her at all. She came with her run to get up for fourth. We’re going to regroup with her to get her back into form because we know when she’s at her best and things go her way that she’s really tough.”
Brown sent out Woodford Racing’s Engage to a runner-up performance in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens, presented by Mohegan Sun and praised both his own runner as well the winner, Still Having Fun.
“[Engage] had a great trip and a great pace set up, but the winner just found more,” said Brown. “He was positioned behind us and rolled by near the wire. The winner was impressive, and I was super proud of Engaged.”
Brown was disappointed with the outcome of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan, in which Convento Viejo’s Robert Bruce finished sixth and Al Shahania Stud, Sheep Pond Partners, Head of Plains Partners, and James Covello’s Beach Patrol was last of 13 as the 9-5 favorite.
“I thought [Robert Bruce] ran real well and had a challenging trip,” said Brown. “It wasn’t the trip we wanted. The winner [Spring Quality] got a good trip and ran really well. He kicked. That’s turf racing.”
“Beach Patrol was the big disappointment of the day, the favorite in the Manhattan. He has never retreated like that in a race since we have had him. I definitely need to take a close look at him and make sure everything is OK. He wasn’t himself for some reason. As long as he is healthy, he has earned the right to have a mulligan, so to speak. So far, I don’t see a reason as to why he did that. It concerns me, but I need to look at the horse.”
Brown said his other Saturday stakes runners – Mask (fourth in the Easy Goer), Pacific Wind (fourth in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps), and Take Your Guns (fourth in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Invitational – all seemed to be doing well upon preliminary inspection.
On the worktab for Brown was champion Good Magic, second in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness. Good Magic, currently targeting the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 29 at Monmouth Park, breezed four furlongs in 50.90 seconds on Sunday.