Pucker Up Day Stakes Recap

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS--Three turf races were contested on a picture-perfect early Autumn afternoon at Arlington Park. The undercard featured the Lady Lionel Handicap, Tex's Zing Handicap, and G3 Pucker Up Stakes.

In the $65,000 Lady Lionel Handicap, KEPI got a last-to-first closing trip to take this female-restricted state-bred stakes that opened the Saturday program. Cisco Torres predictably put 2-1 favorite KATIE THE LADY on the lead, carving out splits of :24.98, :48.82, and 1:12,07. In the stretch, the closers came. First CUMULONIMBLE from the rail, then KEPI. KEPI came widest of all, passing both KATIE THE LADY and CUMULONIMBLE to take the stakes by a length. James Graham rode the winner for trainer Brian Williamson.


KEPI gets her first stakes win in the Lady Lionel Handicap.

KEPI, a five-year-old by Strategic Mission, stopped the clock in 1:36.12 for the mile on firm turf. She was the fourth choice in the wagering at between 7-2 and 4-1 odds. She rewarded her backers with a $9.40 win mutuel.

Winning trainer Brian Williamson debated entering KEPI in an allowance race later this weekend and the Lady Lionel. He was "glad to run here and get the money." Williamson, who's quietly having a good Arlington Park meet, also mentioned aiming her filly for the Indian Maid Handicap across town at Hawthorne on the October 6 Gold Cup Day program.

Winning rider James Graham commented after the race that "[he] got a better feel for her the other morning when [he] worked her a half mile in :50. She finished off the right way and she finished off again today the way she worked."

The two dollar 1-3 exacta of KEPI and CUMULONIMBLE paid #32.60. The fifty cent 1-3-6 trifecta of KEPI, CUMULONIMBLE, and KATIE THE LADY returned $23.60. Dime superfectas including PEYOTE PATTY in the fourth position yielded $7.69 to those who collected.


In the $65,000 Tex's Zing Handicap, the open complement of the female-restricted Lady Lionel, THE PIZZA MAN won his fourth race of the year on the Arlington Park grass, bringing his usual closing run in the lane to nail TAZZ on the line by a nose.

In another race with a predictable pace-setter, MR. MISCHIEF went to the lead and meted out splits of :24.10, :47.82, and 1:11.46, leading for the first three-quarter mile of the 1 1/16 mile grass test. TAZZ, tracking the leader, didn't let MR. MISCHIEF get a free lunch on the front end, and TAZZ moved on the far turn, taking a lead into the stretch. THE PIZZA MAN came from five lengths out at the quarter pole to get the state-bred stakes victory over TAZZ. Another closer, MAVERICKING, closed for third. 3-2 favorite and early pacesetter MR. MISCHIEF wilted to fourth.


THE PIZZA MAN (right, green silks) scores in the Tex's Zing Handicap.

THE PIZZA MAN, a three-year-old son of English Channel, covered the 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:41.97. Bet early and bet often, he was dispatched as the 7-2 third choice. He paid $9.00 to win. Seth Martinez rode the winner for trainer Roger Brueggemann. THE PIZZA MAN is owned by the meet's leading ownership group, Midwest Thoroughbreds.

Winning rider Seth Martinez after the race said "[THE PIZZA MAN] makes a big strong run when you fan him out. That's what [trainer] Roger [Brueggemann] told me to do, which is what I did and it worked out good."

Trainer Roger Brueggemann was undecided on plans for his stakes winning sophomore. However, the Hawthorne Derby on October 13 would seem to be a logical next stop.

The $2 4-2 exacta of TAZZ and THE PIZZA MAN returned $35.40. The fifty cent 4-2-6 trifecta of TAZZ, THE PIZZA MAN, and MAVERICKING yielded $28.05. Punters who had the 4-2-6-5 dime superfecta with MR. MISCHIEF in the fourth position received $15.42.


In the day's feature, the G3 $175,000 Pucker Up Stakes, a pre-race tactical decision by trainer Chris Block made all the difference. Harkening back to her come-from-behind win over Hawthorne grass in the spring, Block instructed Eddie Perez to take LEADING ASTRAY back and to make one long sustained run. That decision was a winning one, as LEADING ASTRAY scored her first graded stakes of her career in annexing the Pucker Up for three-year-old fillies.

SOONERETTE went to the front at the opening bell and dictated the terms, leading through splits of :23.49, :48.21, and 1:12.76. Virginia Oaks winner VOLCAT and Ellis Park shipper RARE EVENT were in close attendance throughout the early stages of the race. As the dozen of sophomores turned for home, LEADING ASTRAY from the back of the pack and MISS CATO from an up-close pressing position moved in on the leading pack.  VOLCAT got her head in front briefly. At the wire, LEADING ASTRAY earned the victory by a nose over MISS CATO. VOLCAT held on for third with TREASURED UP rounding out the superfecta. 3-1 Post time favorite ANGEGREEN never got involved at all and finished last of the twelve.



LEADING ASTRAY (right, yellow cap) wins her first graded stakes in the Pucker Up.

LEADING ASTRAY, a three-year-old Illinois-bred daughter of Belong To Me, stopped the clock for 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.28. She was sent off at 8-1 odds and yielded $18.60 for her backers. The popular local  jockey/trainer team of Eddie Perez and Chris Block were behind her victory.

Winning trainer Chris Block mentioned the logical G1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (QEII) at Keeneland as a next start for the homebred, but that the G3 Valley View at Keeneland for three-year-0lds would be a backup race. Block also mentioned the shift in pace tactics to make one run. Lastly, he also stated that "she trained great in between the Hatoof [on August 18's Million Day program]. [Jockey] Eddie [Perez] did a fantastic job with her. He deserves as much as much credit as anybody when it comes to this filly."

Winning rider Eddie Perez, praised by trainer Block, said that "she broke sharp and had a good trip the whole way. She ran great and gave me everything I needed."

Runner-up rider Cisco Torres was "hoping the Block filly could kind of carry me, but she had the jump on me. All I did was try to get her in a clear spot around the first turn. I couldn't ask for a better trip; we just got outrun [in] the last yards."

The $2 10-12 exacta of LEADING ASTRAY and MISS CATO paid $117.40. The fifty cent 10-12-8 trifecta of LEADING ASTRAY, MISS CATO, and VOLCAT returned $295.35. Dime superfectas with TREASURED UP in the fourth position netted lucky backers $400.19.

All photos courtesy Four Footed Fotos. Special thanks to Sr. Communications Mgr. Dave Zenner for considerations.

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