Abstract Leaching in the grinding circuit is currently practiced in plants that process gold ores with low content of cyanide consuming minerals. The high gold recovery observed in the grinding–classification section of the plant is commonly explained by the inherent high initial dissolution rate of gold observed in gold ore cyanidation, or by the intense agitation prevailing in grinding mills. For understanding this leaching behavior of gold ores, the grinding, classification and leaching sections of a gold processing plant are analyzed through reconciliation of operating data. It is found that gold circulation in the grinding circuit is quite different from the flow behavior of other species due to the strong gold separation effect in the hydrocyclones, which produces quite large residence time for gold-rich particles. The results presented in this study demonstrate that the residence time of these particles in the grinding circuit can be as long as in the leaching tanks and might be the dominant factor in explaining the high dissolution of gold in this section.