There may be two Gronkowskis at the Kentucky Derby this year. Two Gronkowskis, and six legs.
Gronkowski, a 3-year-old colt named after the Patriots tight end, won the Burradon Stakes in Newcastle, England, on Friday morning. The first-place finish secured the horse a spot in the Run for the Roses on May 5.
“The reason he’s named Gronkowski is because, you see, he looks like a tight end,” said Kerri Radcliffe, an English bloodstock agent who bought the horse for Phoenix Thoroughbreds in April of 2017. “He’s massive. He’s got a lot of presence, got a lot of presence.”
Radcliffe has been a Patriots fan “ever since I saw Tom Brady run on the pitch without a helmet on,” but Brady just didn’t seem as apt a name for the big, muscly bay. At a girthy 6 feet 5 inches, Gronkowski is built like his namesake.
“He was always a gentle giant. He’s a lovely horse. Very quiet, a complete gentlemen,” Radcliffe said, settling in to enjoy a celebratory glass of champagne a few hours after the Burradon win.
Out of the gates on Friday, Gronkowski and jockey Jamie Spencer settled near the back of the field of 10 entries. With about a quarter-mile to go, they moved to the outside edge of the track. With open space ahead, Gronkowski took off and into the lead, eventually winning the straight mile by 1¼ lengths. Gronkowski maintained an undefeated record in three starts this season, all on synthetic surfaces.
It was a great finish, and the announcer’s breathless shouting as Gronkowski and Spencer made their final push would amuse any football fan.
“Gronkowski, under the near-side running rail. From Purser and Iconic Sunset, it’s Gronkowski who’s fought his way to the front,” an announcer breathlessly detailed as the big bay made his final charge. “Purser, however, staying on with Dark Acclaim, but it’s Gronkowski doing enough. Could he be Kentucky Derby-bound?”
That could put the Gronkowskis in position to meet, as the tight end is often spotted at Churchill Downs on race day. A Brady-led contingent of Patriots in various combinations of madras and pastels makes an annual pilgrimage.
Radcliffe, who grew up riding ponies and competing in show jumping, took an interest in racing when her grandfather began sneaking her over to the track under the pretext of going for a walk together. She wasn’t a football fan until she started spending more time in the United States at races, but she’s rooted for the Patriots for the last 10 years. She’d love to make Brady or Gronkowski’s acquaintance at Churchill Downs, though she’ll certainly be busy.
Radcliffe’s hopes for Gronkowski always have included the Kentucky Derby. Going to the United States to race is complicated and expensive, and there are plenty of prestigious races in the United Kingdom, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that the Run for the Roses is Radcliffe’s Super Bowl.
“It’s the No. 1 race in the world, that I’ve always wanted to win,” she said.
They’ll have long odds, and horses who have been raised abroad have historically struggled to win the Derby, but Gronkowski has potential.
“It sounds strange but I haven’t yet seen on the racetrack what I believe this horse is capable of. I’m sure there’s more to come,” acclaimed trainer Jeremy Noseda told At The Races on Friday. “We’ll go and sharpen up and get ready for Kentucky now. We’ll need a much better effort, but I’m sure we can do ourselves justice.
“He hasn’t got real gears, but if he can get into a rhythm, he can keep in a rhythm a long time.”
Gronkowski is just finding his rhythm. He’s got plenty of track in front of him before a happy retirement full of leisure time and potential mates.
To the other Gronkowski, though, that might not sound so bad.