2017 Pucker Up Stakes Preview

This race is named after Pucker Up, the 1957 Champion Older Female Horse.  Owned by Dan and Ada Rice (who campaigned 1965 Kentucky Derby winner Lucky Debonair) and trained by Jimmy Conway, she went on a tear at age four.  At Arlington, she beat her own sex in the Arlington Matron.  Out at Washington Park, she took on the boys in the Washington Park Handicap and emerged victorious.  The daughter of Olympia also took her form out of the Chicago area, winning the Beldame Handicap at Belmont that year.

Arlington has carded a race in Pucker Up's honour since 1961.  It was originally run at its current nine-furlong distance, though it was twice shortened to a mile and a sixteenth (1974, 1975) and twice lengthened to a mile and three sixteenths (1979, 1986).  The race is often used as a prep race for the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (GI) at Keeneland in the fall.  Three Pucker Up winners have gone on to win the QEII: Ticker Tape (2004), Vacare (2006), and Hot Cha Cha (2009).

This is just one of six stakes races on Arlington Million Day; we have a separate page with links to all of our previews and analysis for Saturday at Arlington.

Race 12: Pucker Up Stakes (G3), three-year-old fillies, one and one eighth miles on turf, post time 7:02pm CDT

Twelve horses entered the Pucker Up to vie for Grade 3 glory and their share of a $100,000 purse.  The race drew no shortage of speed: ROYALTY PRINCESS, KATINKA, and CANNY need to be on the front, PRINCESS LA QUINTA won't be too far back, and even HAPPY MESA and FAULT have shown frontrunning tendencies on occasion.  With that the case, someone who will be rallying well down the stretch should be well set to score in the Pucker Up this year.

JOURNEY HOME is the only one in the field who drops into the Pucker Up out of the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks last out.  She found that a little over her head, but still made up some ground late.  She should improve on the class drop, as well as on the cutback from a mile and a quarter back to a mile and an eighth.  Though she has not otherwise raced past a mile and a sixteenth, she has a right to like nine furlongs, being by War Front out of an A. P. Indy mare who has thrown other routers.  There's enough to suggest that JOURNEY HOME will spring back into her best form here, and as long as she gets along with new rider Jose Ortiz, anyone who wins this race will have to outfinish her.

LIPSTICK CITY tries graded company for the first time since her two-year-old year.  The jump straight from a close debut win to the Jessamine (G3) proved to be too much, and then it took her a while to get things on the rails at three.  But, the daughter of City Zip has done so come midyear.  Two starts back, LIPSTICK CITY finished a close second in a turf mile allowance at Monmouth, and she returned to score in the listed Boiling Springs stakes there a month later.  She is in better form than she was the only other time she tried nine furlongs, and she should be able to get the distance -- City Zips can be any kind, and with some stamina on the bottom, they can be good going long.  LIPSTICK CITY has that going for her, being out of an A. P. Indy mare who liked a route of ground.  And, her best races have excellent late pace for this field -- the style that ought to win this race barring a plethora of scratches.  The one drawback to LIPSTICK CITY is that she'll take so much money on her trainer's name: Chad Brown.  That said, she's a filly getting good at the right time, and those kinds of fillies win a lot of midyear sophomore Grade 3s.

Trainer Brad Cox sends a pair in here, SENSITIVE and DONTMESSWITHJOANNE.  SENSITIVE has to take a big step forward to get it done here, and needs a better finishing kick.  On the other hand, DONTMESSWITHJOANNE should be rallying strongly.  This is her first try in graded company, but it's a reasonable ask.  This race has her third off a lay, and though DONTMESSWITHJOANNE finished off the board for the first time ever in the Ta Wee last out, that race came up tough and DONTMESSWITHJOANNE was gobbling up ground in the final furlong.  Yes, she has tables to turn on FAULT and LOVELY BERNADETTE from that outing -- particularly LOVELY BERNADETTE, who closed even more sharply than DONTMESSWITHJOANNE that day.  But, FAULT will be closer to a likely hot pace, and DONTMESSWITHJOANNE has a bit better nine-panel pedigree than morning line favourite LOVELY BERNADETTE.  Finally, DONTMESSWITHJOANNE has an angle that worked beautifully back in the day: James Graham going long on the turf.  Graham hasn't been a regular in our jockey colony for a few years, but when he was, you could not leave him off your tickets in two-turn turf races.

Selections:

#4 JOURNEY HOME (9/2)

#3 LIPSTICK CITY (4/1)

#5 DONTMESSWITHJOANNE (8/1)

Longshot: #12 MO'S M V P (30/1) put things together well in her first try on the grass, breaking her maiden two starts back over the Arlington course.  Yes, she was the odds-on chalk that day, but she beat a well-intentioned filly from the red-hot Ignacio Correas barn, Dona Spey.  Next out, trainer Michael Campbell went back to dirt -- and put her right into Grade 3 company in the Iowa Oaks.  Though she did not win, she kicked on well late to finish fifth, just two noses out of third behind Shane's Girlfriend.  Off that effort, it's fair to say MO'S M V P has a right to try Grade 3 company again, and here she does it on what stands to be her better surface, grass.  The pace also helps MO'S M V P's case -- with all kinds of one-way speed (ROYALTY PRINCESS, KATINKA, CANNY), this late-running daughter of Uncle Mo should get a target.  With leading local rider Jose Valdivia, Jr. in the irons, the upside is strong and the price is right.

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