If Monday morning brought news that Gronkowski’s Kentucky Derby (G1) hopes could be dashed, confirmation came later in the day when connections officially withdrew the European Road invitee, citing “a slight infection.” That allowed Instilled Regard, the next horse on the list, to secure a spot in the field for Derby 144.

Gronkowski “spiked a fever over the weekend and was immediately treated with antibiotics,” according to a press release issued on behalf of owner Phoenix Thoroughbreds.

“While the sudden illness seems minor and the colt has been eating heartily and otherwise responding well to treatment, the condition will prevent his shipment to Louisville, Kentucky.”

Tom Ludt, director of Phoenix’s international operations, commented on the turn of events.

“We are beyond disappointed that Gronkowski will miss the Kentucky Derby,” Ludt said. “To have a Derby contender with our first group of three-year-olds was a dream come true, and to have had New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski join us on that journey made it even more exciting. But we must put the welfare of the horse first and we will look forward to the colt recovering quickly and to his future races.”

Phoenix founder Amer Abdulaziz struck a positive tone in the midst of the disappointment.

“Even though we will not be able to make the Kentucky Derby – the ultimate goal in racing for everyone – we are delighted that we were able to gain entrance to this globally significant race with one of our very first acquisitions,” Abdulaziz said. “We will be back to the Derby in the future, and Gronkowski will return to running and, hopefully, winning more races.”

Gronkowski will now be “given time off from training to fully recover from the illness,” the release added.

Named after Rob Gronkowski, the Jeremy Noseda trainee earned his Derby spot as the winner of the inaugural European Road to the Kentucky Derby. He extended his winning streak to four, all on synthetic surfaces in Great Britain, by taking two scoring races in March, the Road to the Kentucky Derby Conditions S. at Kempton and the clinching Burradon S. at Newcastle on March 30.

“This horse is a winner and I love a winner,” said the tight end Gronkowski, who just bought a share in the colt last week. “When I heard about the racehorse being named after me, I started watching and got really stoked when he started winning.” 

A Kentucky-bred son of Australian star Lonhro, Gronkowski was purchased for $404,145 as a two-year-old in training at Tattersalls last April. 

Instilled Regard, who had been “on the bubble” with 29 Derby points, is based in Southern California with Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. His signature win came in the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds in January. Also placed in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1), Instilled Regard has finished fourth in his last pair, the Risen Star (G2) and Santa Anita Derby (G1).

The second bubble horse to draw in on Monday, Instilled Regard follows the Steve Asmussen-trained Combatant, who joined the cast after Quip was removed from consideration. Quip will freshen up for the Preakness (G1).

Here is the updated Kentucky Derby leaderboard, including the top 20 as well as the remaining bubble horses.

Gronkowski photo courtesy of John Hoy