What to Know
A thoroughbred colt named for Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will make his U.S. debut Saturday at the Belmont.
Rob Gronkowski, who is a part owner of the colt, is expected to attend the race.
Gronkowski the horse skipped the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes due to illness.
Raised in upstate New York, Chad Brown didn’t root for the Bills, the Giants or the Jets when it came to football.
The 39-year-old from Mechanicville was a San Francisco 49ers fan. It was simple. He liked future Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, although football didn’t turn out to be Brown’s sport.
Brown has become one of thoroughbred racing’s top trainers, and his favorite football team now is the New England Patriots. It has nothing to do with Tom Brady.
It’s all about Gronkowski, both of them. He likes tight end Rob and the 3-year-old colt named after him who will be a fan favorite Saturday in the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes.
Whether Gronkowski can challenge Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Justify and prevent him from becoming the sport’s 13th Triple Crown winner remains to be seen.
The name of the horse adds interest to the final jewel of the Triple Crown, of course.
“It works for him,” Brown said of the name. “He is going to pick up a few extra fans and that feels good. I am happy people are rooting for him because of his name.”
The Kentucky-bred colt has never raced in North America. He has had six starts in England, winning four races and finishing second once. An illness forced him to skip the Kentucky Derby.
Phoenix Thoroughbred Limited, the owners of Gronkowski, decided after the Derby to move the colt out of the barn of Jeremy Noseda in mid-May. Brown has spent the last three-plus weeks getting the colt ready to run again.
While Gronkowski arrived in good condition and has trained extremely well, Brown would have preferred a little more training time.
“If the horse has enough foundation behind him, he is the kind of a horse that can run a mile and a half on the dirt,” Brown said Thursday after Gronkowski galloped. “Is he ready for Saturday? We’ll see.”
Brown said the owners of Gronkowski gave him the option of skipping the Belmont if he felt the colt was not ready. He elected to run.
Brown has an idea what will happen in the race. Gronkowski will run a little behind the leaders and grind out the first 1¼ miles. It’s the last quarter that’s a concern for a colt that has never run longer than a mile in a race.
“This was a very unique situation,” Brown said. “This was a horse that was on the Derby trail and then off, and now here on short notice. It really takes a special horse to be able to catch up to speed and be able to run in a race like Saturday. Based on what I have seen so far, I do feel like he is up to it.”
Rob Gronkowski, who is a part owner of the colt, is expected to attend. He’s also excited.
“It’s pretty wild,” Gronkowski said Tuesday after a Patriots practice. “I heard about the horse like a year ago and I saw it, and I was like ‘that’s cool,’ you know? Then all of a sudden it’s like the horse is in the Kentucky Derby a year later. So it’s pretty wild. It’s a pretty cool scenario. Pretty cool situation. It just shows, name the horse my name and it’s going to make it, baby.”
Besides Gronkowski the horse, Brown also had another runner in his barn partially owned by three former or current Patriots. He has gotten the chance to sit down with Patriots coach Bill Belichick to discuss how their jobs are similar and how they manage elite athletes and people on their staffs.
“I have asked him for advice, particularly on leadership, winning, and how to get the most out of people,” said Brown, who has 165 employees and 230 horses in his barn. “I find him to be and (have) great admiration for him now that I have had a couple of chances to really sit down with coach and pick his brain. I find him to be really brilliant, a deep thinker and very reserved and calculated about what he says or does. He has enormous experience how to get the most out of people.”
For Brown, this is a week in which he will discover just how much he got out of Gronkowski. At worst, it will be a learning experience. At best, Gronk scores big and upsets Justify’s Triple Crown hopes.