by NYRA Press Office
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.
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Vino Rosso, Noble Indy exit Belmont in good shape; Saratoga possible for Easy Goer victor Prince Lucky
Graded-stakes winners Vino Rosso and Noble Indy, fourth and 10th, respectively, behind Triple Crown champion Justify in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes, emerged well from the race, trainer Todd Pletcher reported Sunday morning.
“Excellent. They’re both in good shape today,” he said. “[Justify] got into that rhythm and was able to slow it down through a half [in 48.11 seconds], and that made him awfully hard to beat.”
Vino Rosso and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez raced in a contending position early and took first crack at Justify on the far turn but was unable to maintain his move and wound up a neck behind third-place finisher Hofburg.
“I thought Vino Rosso ran well,” Pletcher said. “Johnny took a shot on the middle of the turn and tried to put some pressure on the winner and it might have cost him a position.”
Noble Indy, who was noticeably keyed up before the race in the paddock and on the track, brushed the starting gate as he broke and ran in mid-pack under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano before giving way past the quarter pole.
“I was a little disappointed in the way he behaved in the paddock and the post parade. He never really fired,” Pletcher said. “It’s not totally out of character for him. He’s one that we’ve done a lot of work with, and yesterday just seemed like the crowd and everything got to him a little bit.”
Regarding the next step, Pletcher is leaving his options open for both horses.
“We’re not really sure yet,” he said. “We’ll kind of let the dust settle and decide what we’re going to do.”
My Meadowview Farm’s Prince Lucky kicked off the Belmont Day stakes program with a hard-fought neck victory in the $150,000 Easy Goer for 3-year-olds, running 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.41. It was the fourth win from eight starts for the gelded son of Corinthian that was third in the Sir Barton May 19 at Pimlico Race Course on the undercard of the Grade 1 Preakness.
“I thought it was a gutsy effort. He was in between horses and kept fighting back and I was proud of him,” Pletcher said. “We ran him back in three weeks there, so we’ll probably give him a little bit of a freshening and point for something like the Curlin maybe, and if he trains unbelievably well we might even take a shot at something bigger.”
The $100,000 Curlin for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles will be run Friday, July 27 at Saratoga Race Course.
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Monomoy Girl ‘happy, healthy’ morning after G1 Acorn score
Leading 3-year-old filly Monomoy Girl is in good order following her two-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 1, $700,000 Acorn presented by Nassau County IDA, trainer Brad Cox said Sunday.
Saturday’s win was the third straight Grade 1 for the chestnut Tapizar filly, also including a 5 ½-length romp in the Ashland on April 7 at Keeneland and a game half-length score in the Kentucky Oaks on May 4 at Churchill Downs.
“She looked great this morning,” said Cox. “We came out of the race extremely well. She looked great, happy, healthy.”
Owned by Michael Dubb, Monomoy Stables, The Elkstone Group, and Bethlehem Stables, Monomoy Girl is undefeated in four starts in 2018 and is 7-for-8 in her career for earnings of nearly $1.5 million. Her only loss came with a close runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Golden Rod last fall.
In the Acorn, at a mile around one turn, Monomoy Girl settled in third through the early going and came running with a five-wide move for home under Florent Geroux, drawing clear as the 3-5 favorite.
“The way she’s been training, we were expecting a big effort out of her yesterday and she gave it to us,” said Cox. “They give you confidence watching them train, but you never really know what’s going to happen when the gates come open. But, it set up extremely well for her and Florent did a great job putting her in a good position and she responded the way we thought she would. The filly that was second ran an incredible race as well.”
Monomoy Girl left Belmont Park around 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning to return to her trainer’s main base at Churchill, where Cox said she’ll ready for a likely start in the Grade 1, $300,000 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 22 at Saratoga Race Course.
“That’ll be our short-term goal,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes, but it’s good timing between races and hopefully we’ll have her ready and she’ll reward us again.”
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Newly minted graded-stakes winner Still Having Fun back home Sunday
Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable and Terp Racing’s Still Having Fun, long shot winner of Saturday’s Grade 2 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun was back at his base of Laurel Park and doing well, trainer Tim Keefe said Sunday morning.
The Maryland-bred son of Old Fashioned vanned back to Maryland shortly following the race. The trip took just over four hours, Keefe said.
“It was the easiest trip I’ve ever had,” he said. “The horse is doing great. He ate up well last night and he looked fresh and happy today. He’s very good.”
A $12,000 yearling purchase out of Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic sale at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium in October 2016, Still Having Fun more than doubled his career earnings in the Woody Stephens to $431,703 following his 1 ¼-length triumph at odds of 13-1 over 10 rivals in 1:21.45 for seven furlongs.
Already a two-time stakes winner at Laurel over the winter, Still Having Fun was facing graded company for the first time in the Woody Stephens and provided Keefe with the first graded-stakes triumph of his career.
“I’d won a couple stakes at Aqueduct, some overnight stakes, but they were smaller races, obviously. Nothing compared to yesterday,” he said. “That was pretty cool for me.”
A return trip to New York for the Saratoga Race Course meet may be in the cards for Still Having Fun, Keefe said.
“I talked with Adam [Wachtel] this morning just to let him know that everything is good and he had said to Gary and myself that he’s got a couple of ideas that he said he’s going to run past us in a couple of days,” Keefe said. “We always like to make sure the horse comes out of the race well. All indications are right now that he has.
“Certainly Saratoga might be something that we’d consider. I’m sure there will be opportunities for him up there this summer,” he added. “He’s run pretty hard consistently since January. He hasn’t missed a beat. I’ll see what Adam has in mind. He’s been great. He’s a real numbers guy and he’ll help determine what a good next spot will be.”
NYRA Press Office