OZONE PARK, N.Y.— Lightning finally struck for John D. Gunther and Tanya Gunther’s Love And Thunder, who captured her first graded stakes win with a last-to-first move, storming down the stretch to collar pacesetter Evvie Jets in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Athenia for fillies and mares 3-years-old and upward going nine furlongs on the inner turf at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
The 45th edition of the Athenia saw Love And Thunder earn her first graded stakes victory in her 11th start for trainer Chad Brown, who successfully sought a record-extending seventh Athenia conquest as well as his third straight triumph in this race. Love And Thunder arrived off a pair of troubled third-place efforts in one-mile turf stakes, rounding out the trifecta in Belmont Park’s Perfect Sting on July 3 and the Fasig-Tipton De La Rose on August 7 at Saratoga.
“I want to thank the owners John and Tanya Gunther for their patience, they’ve always stuck with this filly and took some of the frustrating trips with a positive attitude and kept moving forward to get this filly a graded win. Their patience was rewarded today,” Brown said. “She’s had several frustrating trips, this filly. She seems to find trouble. She was very deserving today to get up in time and get this great win because it’s been more frustration than celebration exiting her races over the couple years we’ve had her. But to her credit, she’s fired every time and she’s always tried – she just hasn’t had clear paths.
“Sometimes with turf racing and with particular turf horses and the way they run, you’re going to get that,” Brown added. “With her, she’s had it probably more than her fair share, so for her to overcome slow fractions and not get impeded today in a short field was really nice to see.”
After a slow break from post 3, Love And Thunder took to the rear of the five-horse field as three-time winner Evvie Jets set an even tempo into the first turn through an opening quarter-mile in 24.35 seconds over the firm turf. Tass, a 17-1 longshot, took to her outside in second while stakes-winner In a Hurry saved ground in third.
Positions remained unchanged as Evvie Jets led through a leisurely half-mile in 51.10 and three-quarters in 1:15.66 around the far turn. The Brown-trained Kalifornia Queen launched a three-wide bid in pursuit in upper stretch while Love And Thunder, still last at the quarter-pole, was tipped a path wide under Jose Ortiz and came under a drive with her usual late kick. With Evvie Jets still to catch in deep stretch, Love And Thunder confronted her foe in the nick of time, winning by a neck in a final time of 1:50.07.
Evvie Jets finished another three lengths ahead of Kalifornia Queen, who picked up graded stakes black type for the fourth straight time, while making her first start in 11 months. Tass and In a Hurry completed the order of finish. Main track only entrant W W Fitzy was scratched.
Ortiz, who teamed up with Brown for previous Athenia scores aboard Pianist  and Tapit Today , admitted some concern in being forced to chase slow fractions.
“They went 24 and got away from me a little bit and then the second half they slowed it down a lot. I had my hands full down the backside until they picked it up again at the half-mile and I was able to drop my hands again,” Ortiz said. “She was cruising the whole way around there. By the three-eighths pole, I was following the other Chad [Kalifornia Queen]. I knew the pace was slow but she likes it better on the outside, so I went wide and she gave me a great kick.”
Brown expressed satisfaction in a third-place finish from Madaket Stables, Michael J. Caruso, Michael Dubb and First Row Partners’ Kalifornia Queen, who made her first start since finishing third in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor in October 2021 at Woodbine. He added that a start in the Grade 3, $300,000 Long Island on November 25 at Aqueduct could be in her future.
“I entered her about two breezes short of where I wanted her off the layoff but we’re running out of time in the turf season,” Brown said. “So, I told the ownership group I’d run her a little bit short and hopefully hit the board is the best she can do and use the race as her last piece of fitness. She did exactly what I thought she would do.”
Brown said he will take some time to consider a next start for Love And Thunder.
Returning $4 as the odds-on post-time favorite, Love And Thunder banked $96,250 in victory, bringing her lifetime earnings up to $340,591 through a consistent 15-4-5-3 record. Her only off-the-board stateside effort was in last year’s Grade 3 Noble Damsel at Belmont Park, when fifth.
Bred by Papillon Stables Sarl, Love And Thunder is out of the unraced Medaglia d’Oro mare Pretty Pink, who is out of graded stakes winner Take the Ribbon.
Live racing resumes on Sunday with a 10-race card, featuring the Grade 2, $250,000 Gallant Bloom in Race 9. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present live coverage and analysis of every day of Belmont at the Big A on the networks of FOX Sports. For the broadcast schedule and channel finder, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Belmont at the Big A, and the best way to bet every race of the fall meet. Available to horse players nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
By Ryan Martin – NYRA Press Office
Main photo: Love And Thunder in the winner’s circle following her Grade 3 Athenia score (Walter Wlodarczyk)
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