Churchill Downs - Coady Photography

Churchill Downs – Coady Photography

I hope you’re ready for some international racing, because the European Road to the Kentucky Derby is about to get serious.

The seven-race series kicked off last fall with four major races on turf, and following a winter break it is set to resume with the Road to the Kentucky Derby Condition Stakes at Kempton Park in England. Held at a mile over a synthetic track, the race will award 20 Derby qualifications points to the winner, the most of any race to date on the European Road to the Kentucky Derby.

By far the most prominent horse in the field is #5 Gronkowski, who is already nominated to the Triple Crown. Trained by Jeremy Noseda, Gronkowski was beaten in his first two starts on turf but has turned into a different horse since being switched to synthetic tracks, breaking his maiden by 4 ½ lengths going a mile at Chelmsford in November before returning to win a February 9th novice stakes at Newcastle by six easy lengths, earning a career-best 93 Racing Post Rating.

With his unbeaten record on synthetic tracks and his proven ability at this distance, Gronkowski looms as the horse to beat and is expected to start as the favorite. In addition, the Racing Post has reported that Gronkowski’s connections are already planning a trip to the U.S. to prep for the Kentucky Derby, another indicator of how well-regarded Gronkowski must be.

His biggest challenge could come from #4 Fortune’s Pearl, who showed talent while winning two of his four starts sprinting seven furlongs on turf last year. He ended his season with a decent fifth-place finish in the Group 3 Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket (earning a 99 Racing Post Rating), and while he’ll be returning from a layoff and making his debut on a synthetic track, trainer Andrew Balding has been on a roll as of late, winning with five of his last ten starters.

Also worth considering is #6 Three Weeks, who—like Gronkowski—is nominated to the Triple Crown. Following an eighth-place finish in his November 22nd debut at Kempton, the son of Tapit came back to score back-to-back novice stakes wins going a mile over the synthetic tracks at Lingfield and Newcastle. In terms of Racing Post Ratings, Three Weeks needs to step up his game a little (his career-best is an 89), but he’s improved in leaps and bounds thus far and could be poised to take another step forward in this competitive race.

#3 Court House is another to consider following two straight wins for trainer John Gosden. I’ll use him with Fortune’s Pearl and Three Weeks on the bottom of an exacta and trifecta keying Gronkowski on top:

$4 exacta: 5 with 3,4,6 ($12)
$3 trifecta: 5 with 3,4,6 with 3,4,6 ($18)

Good luck!