Gronkowski Odds to Win the 2018 Belmont Stakes with Picks and Predictions
As I write this I don't yet know if Bandua is going to be entered in the Belmont Stakes or not. That is relevant to a Belmont preview of Gronkowski for one reason - If Bandua is entered than Gronkowski will no longer be the most head-scratching, toughest-to-judge horse in the field. The Kentucky Derby made the decision to open a spot in the gate for the winner of a series of races in Britain this year. They have done the same the last couple of years in Japan and have had the same de facto relationship in Dubai for quite a while now since the UAE Derby is a full points prep race like the major American prep races. It's a nice idea but has largely been a dud outside of Dubai.
The quality of horses drawn to the pursuit in Britain were far from the top in the country, aside perhaps from Mendelssohn, who used the series as a way to prep for the UAE Derby, which he won handily. Gronkowski won the series and was given a spot in the Derby starting gate even though he had never raced on dirt or at a distance further than a mile. An injury knocked him out of the race, some craziness ensued as we will see, and now here he is. Is he any good? We have no real way of knowing until late afternoon on June 9. I won't be holding my breath until then, though.
Last race: Since he missed the Derby he is coming off a massive layoff. His last race was in the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle way back on March 30. For reference, Justify has raced three times since then. It was, by all accounts, a solid effort. He travelled with the group early on, made a move to the lead with a furlong remaining and drove clear by nearly two lengths in the end. It was a solid effort. But it came on a synthetic surface in a different country against less than the best horses out there, and it was on a straight mile so he didn't have to deal with any turns. So, how does it translate to here? Your guess is as good as mine.
Prior experience: The colt had a rough start to his career, finishing seventh last September. He came back just two weeks later, though, and was much stronger in finishing second. Then he began a four-race winning streak that is alive heading into the Belmont, with the last three coming this year. All four wins have come on a synthetic mile, and it's worth noting that none have come against Graded or Group company. So, not only is he changing surfaces, countries, and trainers as we will soon see, but he is taking a massive step up in class here.
Trainer: Chad Brown is the trainer of record, but he has never had the colt in a race yet. Jeremy Noseda had trained the colt throughout his career. Noseda is a reasonably-accomplished British trainer, but he and the owners of this colt had a breakup around the time of the Derby and all of their horses were removed from his barn. This colt was sent to New York to work with Brown, with the Belmont the immediate target. Brown is obviously a very good trainer - he has won the Eclipse Award as top trainer two years in a row, won the Preakness last year, and was a top contender this year with Good Magic. But with only a month to work with the horse before the race, it's hard to know what he can do other than get him comfortable and hope for the best. He has been happy with how the horse has worked, for what that's worth.
Jockey: Jose Ortiz. The horse will get a very different style of ride this time out, and American jockeys tend to have a notably different style than their Euro counterparts. The horse will be in good hands, though, as Ortiz won the Eclipse Award last year and is second in earnings this year. He rides in New York, so he can handle this track, and he won the race last year with Tapwrit. Ortiz will likely be particularly focused on a big ride here because his ride aboard Brown's Good Magic in the Preakness was among the worst rides in a major race on a top contender I can remember in recent years. He just plain botched the pace decision and gave a very good horse no real chance of winning. He can and likely will be better - for what that's worth on a horse like this.
Breeding: There is good news and less good news in the pedigree. His damsire is Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, who sired last year's Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee. That's a decent influence. But the sire is, frankly, odd for this spot. Lonhro was a champion miler in Australia and remains a sire there. We very rarely see Australian sires here at all, never mind in our Classic races because the breeding season there doesn't align with ours so horses often aren't the right age. Yet here we are. Lonhro has produced almost exclusively horses that have won at a mile or less, and almost never on dirt. It seems like odd breeding for this challenge, but that fits with everything else that is odd about the horse.
Odds: The horse sits at +2500 to win the Belmont at Bovada , which has him as the seventh choice currently. That price feels insanely low to me.
Can Gronkowski Win the 2018 Belmont Stakes?: No. It's a unique tale - a formerly British-based miler that is the son of an Australian champion and is named after an American football player - who now owns a small part of the horse and will be at the Belmont, incidentally. People will bet on the horse more than they should because of the Gronk connection, but while I have nothing but respect for the connections I just don't see how they can get him across the line in anything close to competitive fashion.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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