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Mike previews the 2022 Athenia Stakes (G3) at Belmont at the Big A, then gives his top picks and longshots. After winning the 2022 All Along Stakes at Pimlico in gate-to-wire fashion, In a Hurry will attempt to do the same against a pair of tough Chad Brown trainees in Love And Thunder and Kalifornia Queen. Can she do it? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
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Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will saddle a pair of top contenders in Kalifornia Queen and Love And Thunder in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Athena, a nine-furlong inner turf test for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up, at the Belmont at the Big A fall meet.
Madaket Stables, Michael Dubb and First Row Partners’ Kalifornia Queen, a 5-year-old German-bred daughter of Lope de Vega, will make her first appearance since a close third-place finish in October 2021 in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor at Woodbine Racetrack.
A Group 2-winner in Germany for her former conditioner Hank Grewe, Kalifornia Queen made six starts last year in her initial season for Brown, posting a record of 1-1-2 and hitting the board in the Grade 3 Matchmaker [2nd] at Monmouth Park and the Grade 2 Ballston Spa [3rd] at Saratoga Race Course.
She has trained extensively over the Belmont Park dirt training track for her return, including a half-mile breeze in 49.34 on September 18.
John Gunther and Tanya Gunther’s Love And Thunder, a 5-year-old Irish-bred daughter of Siyouni, finished third as the mutuel favorite last out in the restricted Fasig-Tipton De La Rose on August 7 at Saratoga. The multiple stakes-placed bay also finished third in last year’s Autumn Days at the Big A and the Perfect Sting at Belmont in July.
Manny Franco will pilot Kalifornia Queen from post 5, while Jose Ortiz has the call on Love And Thunder from post 3.
Matthew Schera’s Tass, a 6-year-old daughter of Temple City, enters from a nose score in the restricted Nellie Mae Cox on September 7 at Colonial Downs for trainer Carlos Martin.
Tass, a six-time winner from 21 starts, finished sixth in a Saratoga allowance mile won by Messidor over returning rival Evvie Jets on July 27 ahead of her Colonial score. Martin said he worked closely with trainer Chuck Lawrence, who also conditions for Schera, to prepare the dark bay for her stakes score.
“I told Chuckie we’d get her ready and I wanted to get her to Fair Hill a week before, so she’ll be there nice and early so it will be logistically an easier trip to Colonial,” Martin said.
Tass worked a bullet half-mile in 48.09 on August 27 over the main track in her final breeze before leaving Saratoga and proved resilient at Colonial, exiting the outermost post 10 under Victor Carrasco and tracking from second position en route to a game nose score.
“He shipped her in on the day of and we got a great ride from Victor Carrasco and she gutted it out. It was a great day for all of us. She ran exceptionally well,” Martin said. “Victor had to hustle her. He used her a little bit to get position and the kid did a great job. He used her for the first eighth and once she sat second and relaxed, I started to feel good about the whole thing.”
Tass has won 2-of-4 starts over the Aqueduct turf, including scores in an 11-furlong allowance in November 2019 and a claiming mile in November.
Martin said it’s worth bringing the mare back on short rest with graded black type on the line.
“She likes the course and the distance. I decided to take a shot,” Martin said. “When they’re doing good you have to run them, and she’s doing great.”
Jose Lezcano will pilot Tass from post 4.
Stuart Janney’s Kentucky-homebred In a Hurry [post 1, Dylan Davis] enters from a gate-to-wire score in the nine-furlong All Along on September 10 over firm going at Pimlico Race Course.
Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, the 5-year-old Blame mare earned graded black type with third-place finishes in the Grade 3 Suwanee River in December at Gulfstream and the Grade 3 Gallorette in May at Pimlico.
Rounding out the field is Robert Amendola’s Evvie Jets [post 2, Eric Cancel], who makes her stakes debut for trainer Mertkan Kantarmaci. The 4-year-old Twirling Candy bay boasts a record of 14-3-4-2, including a victory in a turf allowance mile in November at the Big A.
W W Fitzy is entered for the main-track only.
The Athenia is slated as Race 3 on Saturday’s 11-race card, which also features the $125,000 Ashley T. Cole in Race 10. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
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