2015 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).  2013 saw the triumph of I’m Already Sexy, who is now a five-year-old mare, still a fan favourite, and still winning graded stakes races.  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).

All selections are for turf only.

Race 6: Pucker Up Stakes (GIII), three-year-old fillies, one and one eighth miles over the turf, post 3:07pm CDT

Though this $100,000 stakes for three-year-old fillies drew a field of eleven, all roads to the winners’ circle in this year’s Pucker Up Stakes lead through MISS CHATELAINE.  She has faced the toughest company, and the lack of Lady Eli in this field encapsulates the fact that this race is the easiest bunch she has seen at age three.  At two, she won on debut and then followed that up with a win in the Chelsea Flower Stakes.  At three she came into the Wonder Again first off the lay, and then returned in the Belmont Oaks (GI).  The Wonder Again was her first race in seven months.  Second off the lay, she was slow early and caught farther back than she prefers to be early.  However, she had enough gas to close up late; though she finished eighth, she was only two and a half lengths out of second.  Assuming Joel Rosario (her rider in the Chelsea Flower last year) is able to get her closer to the pace than she was in the Belmont Oaks and her late pace shines in this field.  This will be useful, as this race has so little pace on paper (basically, MIZZ MONEY).  It also stands out that Christophe Clement is shipping her out alone, without any other horses running on Million Day.  Clement is shipping her here to win.

This race drew a trio of Illinois-breds.  Unsurprisingly for a turf stakes, two of them are trained by Chris Block: PRADO’S SWEET RIDE (last-out winner of the Regret (GIII) at Churchill Downs) and GIANT DEDUCTION (a twice-raced half to the likes of 2012 Pucker Up winner Leading Astray, as well as Free Fighter and Suntracer).  They both look like good horses, but both look to be coming in from well off the pace.  In a race with as little pace as this one, the most live Illinois-bred looks to be the one from the Anthony Granitz barn: AMERICA MON AMIE.  This filly returns to the turf after a fourth-place finish over the Woodbine poly last out.  She has won twice over the grass: an impressive maiden win early in the Arlington meet, and then a game win in the Northbound Pride Oaks at Canterbury.  Both of those wins came from a stalking trip, which should be a good place to be in the Pucker Up.  She will have to run the best race of her life to beat MISS CHATELAINE’s best, but given the favourable pace and her known affinity for the Arlington course, she should be able to at least hit the board at a square price.

WALKING THE KITTEN has not done much this year, but is showing some signs of life.  She comes into this race out of a fourth-place finish in the Northbound Pride Oaks, behind AMERICA MON AMIE, but has been working lights-out since.  Her worktab at Indiana Grand has been not only regular, but snappier than ever.  Even though she has not won since her maiden win last September at Kentucky Downs, she has some speed figures that are in range of what she needs here, and has run well from a stalking place.  That should keep her in with a shot.  The turf should also be firm on   Trainer Mike Maker means business when he ships horses, with a 24% win rate over his last 1045 starts with shippers; over half have hit the board.  Few trainers are as sharp or well-meant with their shippers as Mike Maker.  He also gets a rider change to Irad Ortiz; this will be Ortiz’s first ride on WALKING THE KITTEN, but Ortiz has recently been the sort of smart, sharp, and hot rider who makes every horse more live.

Selections:

#10 MISS CHATELAINE (7/2)

#6 AMERICA MON AMIE (8/1)

#11 WALKING THE KITTEN (8/1)

Longshot:  This race still has ten after scratches, but it drew very little in the way of pace.  With the scratch of COUNTERFACTUAL, #3 MIZZ MONEY (10/1) could get loose on the front.  The stretch to a mile and an eighth is questionable, but if she gets an easy lead early, she could have something left in the tank late.  She did show tenacity two starts back in the Northbound Pride Oaks, in which she was on a contested pace for much of the race and finished second beaten just 3/4 length beaten by the stalking AMERICA MON AMIE.  Her last race is a toss, since she never got near the front, and had to wade through the Indiana slop.  The return to turf, still relatively firm after the rain, should help.  She would have to run the race of her life to beat the likes of MISS CHATELAINE, but with the pace advantage and the fight she showed two back, she has a shot to stay in for a share.

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