By Dick Downey
Updated 4:45 pm ET
Today at Belmont Park, Gronkowski and Blended Citizen put in their final workouts for next Saturday's Belmont Stakes.
Gronkowski, working in company with and to the inside of Engage, went five furlongs under Jose Ortiz in 1.01:87 (4/8), breezing, on the main track rated good. Engage got the distance in the same time.
Mike Welsch of DRF tweeted that the duo galloped out seven furlongs together in 1:27.65. Later, DRF's David Grening wrote that the splits were 13.57, 25.90 and 37.52, out six furlongs in 1:14.61 seven in 1:27.70, and pulling up a mile in 1:42.28.
"It went well, galloped out a good three-quarters and I was real happy with it," trainer Chad Brown said of Gronkowski. "This horse hasn't put a foot wrong since he's arrived. He's a real classy horse and came to me in outstanding condition.
"Based on his two workouts, he's made to go a mile and a half on the dirt to me," said Brown, who took over training duties from Jeremy Noseda last month. "In a perfect world, I wish I had him longer and had a better handle on the horse, but it is what it is and I'm fortunate to be in this position to go there with a chance to win.
"I was ready to breeze him yesterday, but then the rain came, but it worked out," Brown said. "Today was always the day I preferred to work him anyway."
"(Jose Ortiz) likes the horse and was as impressed with him as I was, and he felt the longer, the better for him," Brown said.
Gronkowski's last race, which he won, was on March 30 at Newscastle in England, so Gronkowski is working on an accelerated timeline.
"I had the opportunity to train him a couple of weeks before I worked him. I could have squeezed three breezes in, but I just didn't feel the horse was completely acclimated over here yet, so I went with caution and did two works," Brown said. "I wanted to make sure he was ready to work, and he was. Based on what I see, he looks pretty fit. There's some unknowns - he did miss some time - and coming off a layoff going a mile-and-a-half, that's about as tough of a task as you can ask a horse to do. But he's a high-quality horse, so maybe he's good enough to do it."
Blended Citizen went out before today's first race and caught a track rated fast. He ran five furlongs in 1.00:64 (4/9), breezing, under Mike Luzzi.
Reportedly, the work was originally scheduled to go a mile starting from the six furlong pole. Onlookers saw Blended Citizen pulled up abruptly with a gallop out of six furlongs in 1:17.22.
"He covers a lot of ground. He's a Cadillac," Luzzi said. "Obviously we know he likes the track. I wish the best of luck to them next week."
Assistant trainer Leandro Mora said he was pleased.
"What I like is how easily he did it," Mora said. "It was nice, I'm very pleased. He wasn't even making noise going by. I like how he went past the wire. That's when you know you have a legit horse. I like what I saw..
"We don't school horses like some trainers," said Mora. "If we work a horse prior or between races, or before the first race, we do it like a race, so they think they went through it, but they didn't go through the hassle. They come back to the barn, they've gone through the workout, and it's a whole psychological thing for them.
"This is a late-developing horse," Mora said. "He was just a slow learner. We tried him on dirt, we thought he was just no good on dirt. So Doug put him on the grass and he won. (The owners) talked to Doug, and he said if you want to make it to the Kentucky Derby, let's do it like Animal Kingdom did. Run around synthetic, and try to qualify, and enjoy the Derby.
"Once we didn't get in, the owners brought up the (Belmont Derby) on the grass. Doug said, 'What about the Peter Pan?' and the owners said, 'Let's go."
Regular rider Kyle Frey reflected on Blended Citizen's year, which included a win of the Jeff Ruby Steaks and a fifth-place finish in the Toyota Blue Grass before he won the Peter Pan at Belmont Park.
"The Turfway race, and then the Blue Grass, were kind of speed or off pace-favoring, and I just had to use him up too much to keep him where he was," Frey said. "I think he's coming into himself, coming into his own both mentally and physically. Things are lining up perfectly for him. Everything is kind of falling into place in the nick of time.
"I think he's really maturing, and he's really figuring it out. His stride is ridiculous. It's amazing; one of his is like two on another horse. With those long-distance races, I think those horses can cover more ground without using themselves up."
Frey said he really liked Blended Citizen's effort in the Peter Pan.
"I was trying to get him pulled up, but when (after the race Maggie Wolfendale, on horseback) came up to me, he was trying to get going again. It was a nice little way to start it off. I've been meaning to tell Blended Citizen's owners as a joke that they should be confident, I'm the only rider who wins at 100 percent here."
Remaining workouts for the Belmont await Hofburg at Saratoga, probably on Sunday weather permitting; and the horses based at Churchill Downs, including Justify, most likely on Monday.