Gronkowski could meet name­sake at Ken­tucky Derby

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS | FOOTBALL - Dan Wolken

Un­like his hu­man name­sake, Gronkowski the horse has not missed any train­ing lately, will not be pro­vid­ing any juicy con­tent for TMZ and won’t spend much time par­ty­ing with mem­bers of the op­po­site sex — at least un­til his re­tire­ment.

But the two Gronkowskis have some­thing in com­mon — an affin­ity for the Ken­tucky Derby — and there’s a good chance they’ll meet face-to-face at Churchill Downs this year.

Rob Gronkowski, the Pa­tri­ots tight end, has been known in pre­vi­ous years to fi­esta on Mil­lion­aire’s Row along with sev­eral of his team­mates, in­clud­ing Tom Brady. And now the equine Gronkowski, a Ken­tucky-bred 3-year-old who trains in Eng­land, will join him at Churchill af­ter fin­ish­ing first in a new points sys­tem for Euro­pean horses that gave him an au­to­matic spot in the Ken­tucky Derby.

“I’m hop­ing to meet Gronk. He’s def­i­nitely com­ing,” Kerri Rad­cliffe, the blood­stock agent who pur­chased the horse on be­half of Phoenix Thor­ough­breds, told USA TO­DAY by phone from Lon­don last week. “The whole team is go­ing. Gronk ac­tu­ally liked one of the tweets I put up and he knows all about the horse. I’m def­i­nitely sup­posed to be meet­ing him on that Fri­day (be­fore the race).

“I just hope he brings Mr. Brady.”

It is Rad­cliffe’s fan­dom of Amer­i­can foot­ball in gen­eral, and par­tic­u­larly the Pa­tri­ots, that in­spired her to name the horse Gronkowski af­ter buy­ing him for 300,000 Bri­tish pounds (roughly $425,000 U.S. dol­lars) at the Tat­ter­salls auc­tion for 2-year-olds in train­ing last year.

Though the av­er­age eye might be not be able to tell much dif­fer­ence from one Thor­ough­bred to an­other, Rad­cliffe saw a tall, phys­i­cal spec­i­men with rip­pling mus­cles and im­me­di­ately thought of some­one she’d seen on the foot­ball field.

“I loved the big rangy horse, just ba­si­cally built like a tank,” she said. “He is built in the equine form of Gronk.”

In fact, be­cause of the reg­u­la­tions re­lated to nam­ing horses in Eng­land, Rad­cliffe had al­ready re­served the name Gronkowski with the Bri­tish Horserac­ing Au­thor­ity be­fore the pur­chase as well as sev­eral other Pa­tri­ots-themed names in­clud­ing Belichick and Amen­dola. Much to her dis­ap­point­ment, Brady was al­ready taken.

“I’m a very, very big Tom Brady fan,” Rad­cliffe said. “I’ve al­ways watched the NFL be­cause I spent a lot of time in Amer­ica buy­ing horses for 15 years, at least.”

She even put a Pa­tri­ots con­nec­tion into nam­ing Dream Tree, a Bob Baf­fert trainee who might have been the Ken­tucky Oaks fa­vorite if not for a mi­nor in­jury last month. Dream Tree Boule­vard is the name of a street at the Dis­ney World re­sort where Rad­cliffe watched the Pa­tri­ots beat the At­lanta Fal­cons in Su­per Bowl LI.

“It’s hard to get horses’ names passed, es­pe­cially when it’s af­ter some­one who’s fa­mous,” Rad­cliffe said. “If they’re Amer­i­can-bred, which Gronkowski is, they have to pass North Amer­ica and UK (rac­ing au­thor­i­ties), so it’s not an easy task.

“There’s noth­ing worse than hav­ing a good horse that has a bad name.”

Gronkowski seems like a good name, or at least one that is go­ing to at least give some ca­sual fans and peo­ple who typ­i­cally don’t watch the Ken­tucky Derby a rea­son to tune in on May 5, which is also Cinco de Mayo — one of the hu­man Gronkowski’s fa­vorite hol­i­days.

Per­haps that con­flu­ence of Gronk karma will pro­duce a big up­set, as no Euro­pean-based run­ner has shipped over and won the Ken­tucky Derby. At the very least, Rad­cliffe has helped bring some pub­lic­ity for the NFL over to Eng­land, where many fans didn’t know the ori­gin of the name be­fore Gronkowski started win­ning races.

“Every­one is jump­ing on the band­wagon now,” she said.

The Pa­tri­ots’ Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have been known to at­tend the Ken­tucky Derby to­gether. ROBIN MARCHANT/GETTY IM­AGES FOR CHURCHILL DOWNS

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