Gronkowski’s Hail Mary in the Belmont Stakes


Justify captured the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown while Gronkowski ran an outstanding second. (Photo credit: NYRA).

Hey Rob Gronkowski, I feel you owe me an apology.

I heard Justify won the Belmont Stakes (G1) on Saturday but I too busy to notice because I was watching your namesake.

For the past week I spent a little too much time attempting to find a horse that could derail Justify’s Triple Crown bid. After all, wagering on a 4-5 chalk is just not that much fun.

The nine foes that were lining up to face Justify were not exactly getting the pulse racing. Hofburg and Vino Rosso were the two I was mulling over, but after watching the Kentucky Derby (G1) replay a few more times, I just thought Hofburg’s trouble might have been overrated and Vino Rosso just did not show me enough.

I would not have given Gronkowski much of a thought, except for the fact that he landed in Chad Brown’s barn and over the past month the two-time Eclipse Award winning trainer said the colt “checked all the boxes” and was ready for the Belmont Stakes.

I went back and watched the Burradon Stakes again and the colt just looked like a grinder over the all-weather surface at Newcastle and I did not really see much I liked.

Gronk Liked His Namesake

Gronkowski (the football player) was interviewed before the race and he was quite upbeat, telling the NBC television audience he thought his namesake had a chance. I thought to myself, “You poor silly man, I do like your pink shirt, but your colt has no shot.”


I ended up sticking with Justify, hoping that Hofburg, the Pletcher factor and perhaps Patriots fans would help us get 6-5. Vino Rosso was my second choice followed by Hofburg and Noble Indy.

Then it was time. I was ready to witness another Triple Crown just three years after American Pharoah was the first in nearly four decades to accomplish the feat.

2018 Belmont Stakes Replay

Would Justify be able to clear the field early and take the field gate to wire? When the gate opened the favorite did indeed grab the lead, but instead of watching the potential Triple Crown winner in action, I could not take my eyes off Gronkowski.

Under jockey Jose Ortiz, the colt had broken last and by the time Justify hit the first turn, Gronkowski appeared to be more than 15 lengths behind, and for a moment I thought he was not taking to the racing surface and might get pulled up.

“He broke a bit slow,” Ortiz said after the race. “He’s a horse from England. After that, I didn’t have any choice. I had to drop in and save all the ground.”

Broke a “bit” slow? That was the understatement of the day.

Once the colt made it to the first turn it was apparent he was running fine, just far behind the leader with no hope of landing in the money.

I still could not stop watching him, thinking how embarrassed Chad Brown would be when his colt finished 45 lengths behind Justify.

By the time they hit the far turn Gronkowski had made up some ground, but it looked as if Vino Rosso might be the major danger to derail a Triple Crown bid. But jockey John Velazquez admittedly moved a tad too soon, and he soon flattened out.

As they entered the stretch Gronkowski was coming up the inside and was picking up steam. There were a couple of strides with about a furlong to go that I thought he actually had a chance of running by Justify.

However, Justify had enough left in the tank despite the Belmont Stakes being his sixth career start since February and held on to win by 1 ¾ lengths with Gronkowski running an outstanding second at 24-1 to complete a $2 exacta that paid $89.00.

I had just witnessed history, Justify becoming just the 13th Triple Crown winner.

What was the first thing I said after Justify crossed the wire?

“Wow, Gronkowski!”

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