San Nicola Thunder, with Justin Stein in the irons, fended off a late challenge from Iroquois Falls to win the $125,000 Bunty Lawless Stakes, an Ontario Sires Stake for three-year-olds and upward, Sunday at Woodbine.

At the finish of the one mile turf test, San Nicola Thunder, who had been positioned in fourth for much of the journey before taking over in mid-stretch, had prevailed by a neck in 1:35.89 over the firm going. Warbred, who had set the early fractions of :24.11, :48.43 and 1:12.07 before giving way to the winner, hung on for third.

Named for one of Canada’s great thoroughbreds, who won the 1938 Queen’s Plate and the inaugural Canadian International the same year, the Bunty Lawless went postward with eight hopefuls, including the 8-5 favourite Pender Harbour, who was attempting to win the race for a third time in the last four years. And last year, he was beaten a neck for the top spot or he would have been seeking a fourth consecutive score.

But today was not his day, as the race highweight, carrying 126 pounds compared to the winner’s 117 pounds, came home fourth, three and one-half lengths behind San Nicola Thunder.

It was the first win in eight starts this year for the John Cardella-trained four-year-old gelded son of Silent Name-San Nicola Flyer. But he’d been knocking at the door, with three seconds, including a runner-up finish to Paso Doble, just a head back, in the Overskate Stakes in his last outing on Polytrack.

Last year, he won only once in nine starts, but like today, it was on the grass, it was at one mile and it was a stake race (Vice Regent). Stein was also aboard for that triumph.

“He loves the mile distance, it’s his preferred distance. He likes the hard turf and the trip worked out well,” said Stein. “There were a couple of horses on the outside coming around the (far) turn that were putting a little pressure on me to move a little earlier than I wanted to. But he ran very game down the lane and he tries really hard. He’s a very honest horse. ”

Added veteran conditioner Cardella, “As the time goes by, he seems to be improving in his morning training. Let’s hope he wins another stake before the year is over.”

Sent postward the 5-2 second choice, San Nicola Thunder, who earned $75,000 for his co-owner and breeder Joe Pirone, along with partner Paul Cooper, returned $7.40, $4.30 and $3.40, combining with Iroquois Falls ($4.70, $3.40) for a $34 (7-5) exactor. A 7-5-4 (Warbred, $7.20) triactor paid $217.30, while a $1 Superfecta [7-5-4-6 (Pender Harbour)] was worth $319.60.