By Lynne Snierson
Named for retired New England Patriots four-time All Pro tight end and three-time Super Bowl champion Rob Gronkowski, who is a minority owner, Gronkowski the horse has been based in Dubai with trainer Salem bin Ghadayer since leaving Chad Brown’s stable at the end of his 2018 campaign.
Leading Saudi Arabian owner Khalid bin Mishref bought into the horse, it was confirmed Oct. 20, with the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup in mind. The Saudi Arabian is a familiar player at the international sales and has won races in the United Kingdom, the United States and his native country. He is a longtime friend and ally of co-owner Amer Abdulaziz, the founder and head of Phoenix Thoroughbreds, and accompanied him on a mission to Riyadh last year as he explored the possibility of competing in Saudi Arabia’s biggest race.
“It was an easy decision to invest with Phoenix Thoroughbreds,” explained the Saudi owner. “Not only is Gronkowski a world-class racehorse, but Phoenix’s international ambitions mirror my own. A chance to be part of a horse of this caliber doesn’t come around that often, so I was delighted to be given the opportunity. It’s very exciting to think he’ll be lining up in the Saudi Cup in front of Saudi racing fans. I’m sure that this will be a very successful partnership.”
Gronkowski last raced at Meydan in Dubai, where he was third in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 (G2) on Feb. 6 (behind fellow Saudi Cup contender Benbatl), and it followed a third-place finish in the Entisar Stakes at the same track on Dec. 5. His best finish, and perhaps best career effort, came in the UAE in last year’s $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) where he was the runner-up after being run down right before the wire by Thunder Snow.
Gronkowski may have earned just shy of $3 million, but he has not reached the winner’s circle in eight tries since taking the Burradon Stakes on March 3, 2018 at Newcastle in England to qualify for the Kentucky Derby (G1) that year for trainer Jeremy Noseda.
After spiking a fever that forced him to miss the Derby, he was transferred to Brown’s care and remained stateside to run in the Belmont Stakes (G1), where he closed from way back to be second behind Triple Crown winner Justify.
Trainer: Salem bin Ghadayer
Jockey: Frankie Dettori
Post position: No. 5
Odds: 20-1 (usracing.com)
Owners: Phoenix Thoroughbred III, Khalid bin Mishref
Career record: 14 4-3-3
Career earnings: $2,942,360
Pedigree: Lonhro (AUS)-Four Sugars, by Lookin at Lucky
Running style: Closer
“Second in 2018 Belmont, 2019 Dubai World Cup but 0-for-8 on dirt; third or fourth his ceiling.’’ – Ed McNamara
“Racked up plenty of earnings but has never won in eight career dirt outings … seems to pop-up with random big efforts (runner-up in 2018 Belmont Stakes and 2019 Dubai World Cup) so can’t be counted out in exotics if price is right.” – Noel Michaels
Notes: Khalid bin Mishref, along with six ownership groups, is a partner in
Grade 1 winner Math Wizard, who did not receive an invitation to the Saudi Cup, much to the disappointment of co-owner and trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr … Amer Abdulaziz founded Phoenix in 2017 and has stables in the U.S., Europe, Australia & the United Arab Emirates … Abdulaziz said in a BloodHorse article dated Sept. 3, 2018 that Phoenix had already spent more than $55 million on bloodstock at worldwide sales … Phoenix captured its first European G1 success when Advertise won the aptly-named Keeneland Phoenix Stakes at The Curragh. The stable won a G1 in the U.S. with the Bob Baffert-trained Dream Tree … He bought young colts at the sales and named them Favre for NFL Hall of Famer Brett Favre and Lebron for NBA superstar LeBron James … Abdulaziz, who is from Bahrain, grew up on an Arabian horse farm and was a champion owner of Arabians in the 1980s, is passionate about horses … He is a graduate of the University of California-Berkeley with a degree in finance.
While a student at Cal, he went with a friend to Golden Gate Fields and fell in love with thoroughbreds … He also fell in love with American football and is an ardent fan of the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers … Salem bin Ghadayer, 41, is one of the leading trainers in the UAE. He had his first starters on the UAE thoroughbred and Arabian circuit during the 2014-15 season following time as a rider and trainer of endurance horses….In March 2018, in the midst of a breakout season, he was suspended for one year by the Emirates Racing Authority for a positive drug test. The horse in question was owned by Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum.