2018 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 five stakes races on Arlington Million Day; once all stakes previews are posted, we will have a separate page with links to all of our previews and analysis for Saturday at Arlington.

Selections are made for turf only.  

Saturday, August 11 - Arlington Park

Race 12: Pucker Up Stakes (G3), three-year-old fillies, one and one eighth miles on turf, post time 6:51pm CDT

This year's Pucker Up is incredibly well-matched.  In a field where so many have shown such close form so far, A. A. AZULA'S ARCH is the narrow pick.  She should be near the front, though with one-way speed DIAMONDCOAT, route-race speedster IN THE MOOD, and rail-mired DARK ARTIST likely to be the ones who have to go, she has the tactical speed to sit in close range.  She won't have a runaway favourite in front of her like Got Stormy, who she finished a chasing second behind in last month's Ontario Colleen (G3).  Even though she didn't win that outing, it still showed some positive points: it was a solid first effort on turf, and her ability to handle the Woodbine turf should translate well to Arlington, particularly with the stakes races set in the wider, more sweeping turf lane.  A. A. AZULA'S ARCH also has a win at a mile and an eighth, in an allowance over the Woodbine Tapeta.  Finally, it's a positive to see her get a high-percentage local jockey, Mitchell Murrill.  In a race where differentiating so many of the contenders is so tough, there are enough specific positive factors about A. A. AZULA's ARCH to tip in her favour.

SECRET MESSAGE does have tables to turn on likely Pucker Up favourite BEYOND BLAME, but she can.  When last they met in the Regret (G3) at Churchill she was farther off the pace after getting away poorly.  If she comes away better in the Pucker Up she can get her more customary position, stalking or midpack early, and not leave so much work for late in the race.  Finally, the connections speak loudly in her favour.  Trainer Graham Motion has had SECRET MESSAGE pointed to the Pucker Up for so long that he instead routed Colonia -- the winner of the local prep, the Hatoof -- elsewhere.  And, jockey Irad Ortiz rode both SECRET MESSAGE and PAMINA (a last-out allowance winner with good upside here -- another one to consider covering on a spread ticket) last time, and he returns to SECRET MESSAGE.

BEYOND BLAME didn't draw particularly well -- she drew the far outside in a field of thirteen.  But, despite that draw, she has many other things going for her.  BEYOND BLAME keeps her regular rider Florent Geroux -- no longer a regular rider at Arlington, but long part of the colony, and still dangerous when he ships in for Chicago's biggest day.  She has a win at a mile and an eighth, last-up in the Regret.  That came in a field of thirteen, suggesting BEYOND BLAME can handle a big field like this.  Though she hasn't run since that June 16 race, she should be able to fire fresh: she ran a good debut (her only first-up race in her nascent career) and trainer Brad Cox wins at 29% off 46-90 day layoffs.  BEYOND BLAME has also proven her pace versatility: she can win on the front end, from just off it, or from midpack.  That gives Geroux options for where to put her, depending on how many of the possible speed horses go, and where he finds room to get off the outside.  This daughter of Blame will probably be the favourite, but if she runs her race, it's hard not seeing her in the frame.

Selections:

#6 A. A. AZULA'S ARCH (6/1)

#10 SECRET MESSAGE (12/1)

#13 BEYOND BLAME (3/1)

Longshot:  #7 MADAME MILAN (20/1) may have been off the board in the Hatoof, the local prep for the Pucker Up, but she has plenty of things going for her that make her primed to improve.  She handled the Arlington course well enough last month.  She was running well late, like a horse who could handle more distance; looking at her pedigree bears out that she should like more ground, as MADAME MILAN is a Bernardini half-sister to Barbaro.  Though she is an off-pace sort, she does not need to be as far back as Feargal Lynch took her in the Hatoof.  MADAME MILAN gets a switch back to Daniel Centeno in the irons for the Pucker Up; their work together at Tampa, Laurel, and Delaware suggest they're the right match.

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