Delayed six days thanks to all the snow and deep freeze caused by the “Beast from the East,” the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions Stakes is back on the schedule for Wednesday with a field of seven set to go at Kempton Park near London. You can watch it live on TwinSpires at 2:10 p.m. (EST).
Most of the original cast is re-entered in the one-mile event on Polytrack, led by Triple Crown nominees Gronkowski and Three Weeks. The newcomer to the line-up is Court House, who was added when the entries were re-opened. All three bring a two-race winning streak into the scoring contest, worth points on the 20-8-4-2 scale (on the European leaderboard only) to the respective top four finishers.
Likely favorite Gronkowski, a Kentucky-bred, has won both of his starts on synthetic surfaces by a combined margin of 10 1/2 lengths. After breaking through at Chelmsford November 9, he reappeared February 9 with a six-length conquest at Newcastle. The surface switch from turf helped, as did the addition of blinkers.
Gronkowski is trained by Jeremy Noseda, better known among American racing fans for upsetting the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) with Wilko. Noseda’s other stateside wins include the 2010 Gotham (G3) victory by Awesome Act. Gronkowski is himself reportedly looking ahead to a U.S. prep race for the Kentucky Derby, and his trainer believes he’s ready to handle this engagement along the way.
“This has been the specific plan since he won at Chelmsford,” Noseda said last week on his website.
“Newcastle was a prep race and he took a small step there,” and Wednesday’s race represents “a bigger step.
“But I have a lot of faith in the horse and he is more than equipped to compete.
“He is in great shape, tip-top order. I couldn’t be happier with him and the track will suit too.”
Gronkowski, a Phoenix Thoroughbred colorbearer like Kentucky Oaks (G1) contender Dream Tree and Smarty Jones hero Mourinho, figures to be on or near the early lead with jockey Jamie Spencer.
Three Weeks, also a Kentucky-bred, gets an eye-catching rider change to Ryan Moore. A Tapit blueblood campaigned by owner/breeder Apple Tree Stud, Three Weeks ran greenly when off to a slow start on his debut here, so his eighth-place result isn’t a true indication of his ability on this track. The William Haggas pupil learned from that experience to win well in his next pair at Lingfield and Newcastle, and he will be closing late.
Like Gronkowski and Three Weeks, Court House has captured his past two going this distance. Trained by John Gosden for Princess Haya of Jordan, Sheikh Mohammed’s wife and an accomplished equestrienne, Court House won at Newcastle in his third attempt. He followed up promptly in a Lingfield handicap last time out on January 20, despite reverting to his former habit of breaking slowly. Both were small, four-horse affairs, and now Court House has to step up versus better rivals.
Fortune’s Pearl, the only entrant yet to try synthetic, brings some solid turf form into his sophomore debut. The Qatar Racing runner has scored in two of four outings, including a 13-runner event at Newmarket in August, and finished fifth in the Tattersalls (G3) over the same course in his latest on September 28. If he can handle stretching out to a mile in his first start back, the Andrew Balding trainee rates as a threat.
Bobby Biscuit, a Kentucky-bred by Scat Daddy, is the lone entrant who can boast a course-and-distance win. That came in his second career start on January 28, and he’s entitled to improve for trainer Simon Dow. Although Ventura Knight has yet to win in his two outings on synthetic, he can’t be discounted as a four-time winner on turf from the Mark Johnston yard. His stablemate of a similar profile, Rufus King, almost upset last Saturday’s Spring Cup.
Rounding out the field is Ambient, a maiden after six starts. Two of the original entrants, Jellmood and the filly Morning Has Broken, did not re-enter.