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Gronkowski the horse won’t run in Kentucky Derby but is eyeing Belmont Stakes

Rob Gronkowski’s possible reaction to the equine news out of England. (Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
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New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was brimming with his usual ebullience after it was announced last week that he had bought a minority share in a Kentucky Derby qualifier named Gronkowski.

“This horse is a winner, and I love a winner,” the human Gronkowski said in a statement. “When I heard about the racehorse being named after me, I started watching and got really stoked when he started winning. He’s won his last three races and is now headed to the Derby. I’m all in: Welcome to the Gronk Family, Gronkowski the Horse!”

But then came word that Gronkowski the horse will not make it to Churchill Downs at all, after suffering what his ownership group called a “minor infection” that prevented him from traveling from England to Kentucky.

“We very much regret that Gronkowski will miss the Kentucky Derby after spiking a fever over the weekend and being treated with antibiotics,” the Phoenix Thoroughbred ownership group announced Monday. “He can’t make the long journey to Louisville but is doing well.”

In a statement Tuesday, Phoenix Thoroughbred said that it hopes to run Gronkowski in this year’s Belmont Stakes, the third leg of horse racing’s triple crown.

Gronkowski the horse had won four straight starts to accrue enough qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby and had been scheduled to arrive in Kentucky this upcoming weekend. He had always been a long shot to  challenge at the Derby; he has never run on dirt, with all of his races coming on turf or all-weather surface. He also has never run longer than a mile, making it questionable whether Gronkowski had the stamina to compete in the 1 1/4-mile Derby. Plus, since the Kentucky Derby points system was introduced in 2013, no horse has won the race with fewer than 100 qualifying points. Gronkowski has only 50.

Rob Gronkowski, the human, buys a stake in Gronkowski, the racehorse

Still, he figured to attract popular money based on his extremely popular namesake and part-owner. Monday’s news ended that possibility.

“To have a Derby contender with our first group of 3-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,” said Tom Ludt, Phoenix Thoroughbred’s director of international operations, according to the (Louisville) Courier Journal. “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.”

Gronkowski the human headed to Twitter on Monday night to offer his thoughts. As a talented but oft-injured athlete, he surely can relate to Gronkowski the horse’s situation.

Gronkowski probably has enough disposable income laying around that he’ll be okay if his horse investment doesn’t pay off. (He has said he never touches the money he receives from the six-year, $54 million contract he signed in 2012, instead living off his endorsements.) But here’s hoping he was aware of the risks involved.

“This is a game where money invested should be thought of as disposable income,” racehorse expert and consultant Tony Cobitz told CNBC in 2010. “Is it possible to make money? Yes. Is it possible to make a lot of money? Sure. But even the most sophisticated investors don’t expect to do it every year.”

Said Barry Irwin, founder of Team Valor, a Kentucky horse racing stable: “Don’t get involved with horse racing unless you love the sport. The chances of losing are 90 percent.”

Combatant and Instilled Regard moved into the Derby field, according to the Courier Journal, after Quip also dropped out.

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