Million Week 2019: 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 10 – Arlington Park

Race 12: Pucker Up Stakes (G3), three-year-old fillies, one and one eighth miles on turf, post time 6:55pm CDT

There is a great chance that the Arlington Million and the Beverly D. will chalk out.  Things get a bit more interesting with the three-year-olds in the Secretariat.  Things get even more interesting with the three-year-old fillies in the Pucker Up.  The race drew a field of 12.  It’s not like the top two on the morning line, CAFE AMERICANO and WINTER SUNSET, have no shot.  Both of them fit well enough.  The problem is, “well enough” isn’t a great reason to take a short price, especially drawn out wide.  CAFE AMERICANO is going to take the Chad Brown money, and though she is dropping from the Belmont Oaks (a significant drop!) and is a winner at the distance, her form isn’t so good that it makes her exciting at a short price.  And, as for WINTER SUNSET?  Again, her form is good enough.  Her consistency, on the board in five of five starts, is admirable.  But, with her sharpest form so far coming at those mile-category distances, she makes more sense underneath than on top.  And, with so much chalk in the earlier legs of these late sequences, the value comes in beating these two on top in the Pucker Up, and that’s what we’re here to do.

Trainer Roger Attfield does not send a horse down from Canada just for giggles, and rest assured, ART OF ALMOST looks tough in the Pucker Up.  It took her six tries to break her maiden, and she finally got off the mark in May, going a mile and a sixteenth on Tapeta.  Consider the light on: she returned to beat winners over the Tapeta at a mile and an eighth next out, and then ran third in the Dance Smartly (G2) — a mile and a quarter stakes versus older mares on the lawn — behind a pair of Canadian champions, Holy Helena and Starship Jubilee.  Holy Helena, the winner, has been holding her own against tough older turf mares in the US these last couple of years.  In short, these foes against whom ART OF ALMOST held her own, the foes who beat her by only a length and a half in that Dance Smartly, give her a nice strength of schedule advantage. Add to it the fact that form over the broad, galloping Woodbine turf course is a good harbinger for form over the broad, galloping Million Lane at Arlington, and it’s easy to envision ART OF ALMOST finishing best in the Pucker Up.

PRINCESA CAROLINA just missed in the Hatoof Stakes, the local prep for the Pucker Up, but a mile and a sixteenth is short of her best.  This mile and an eighth should take her closer to what she wants to do.  Yes, her one try at the trip was a little disappointing, and leaves her with tables to turn on WINTER SUNSET, but that day she was coming first off a break.  Her trainer, Ken McPeek, virtually never has horses ready to fire hard in their first start off a break.  The solid race in the Hatoof was a better indication of PRINCESA CAROLINA’s real self, and the extra ground can only help this filly who is already a winner going a mile and three sixteenths.  And, she gets back rider Brian Hernandez.  Local Chris Emigh rode in the Hatoof, and Emigh wouldn’t be a bad fit here, either, but Hernandez had ridden PRINCESA CAROLINA in her four starts before the Hatoof, and had gotten good races out of her from both frontrunning and late-running places.  That versatility and her stamina should serve well again.

I’ll admit, I slept completely on INDIGO GIN in the Hatoof.  I had her nowhere in the picture, and was surprised when she won.  However?  Out of that effort emerges a filly who is now a debut nose shy of four-for-four on the turf, and a debut nose shy of four-for-four over two turns.  INDIGO GIN should be forward, which shouldn’t be a terrible place to be: there are a few in this race who are forward, but given the lack of true one-way speed, there shouldn’t be a torrid pace.  And, INDIGO GIN showed last out that she can battle on when things get tough.  In a field of twelve, that skill should serve her well.  It is INDIGO GIN’s first time at nine furlongs, but the pedigree appeals.  She is by Lemon Drop Kid, a stallion whose progeny often relish the distance.  And, she is the first foal out of the Galileo mare Lady Bingo; though Lady Bingo retired a maiden, her own dam Sharp Lisa was a Grade 2 winner at a mile and a quarter on the lawn.  So, not only is INDIGO GIN a horse getting good at the right dime, but her pedigree suggests she will relish the step up in trip.


#10 ART OF ALMOST (5/1)
#4 INDIGO GIN (6/1)

Longshot:  #5 WINNING ENVELOPE (12/1) has some tables to turn — just barely — on a couple of horses in this.  She ran third in the Hatoof, beaten three quarters of a length for all of it, behind INDIGO GIN and PRINCESA CAROLINA.  But, that was her first start in just over three months: if she tired a little bit, it’s understandable.  Especially with a pair of maintenance works since, WINNING ENVELOPE should be a bit fitter for this outing.  She is likely to get firm turf again, and has run well in each of her starts on a firmer footing.  She is also versatile enough to run a good race from either a close-up spot like last time, or from further back as she did in the Florida Oaks, depending on how the front end unfolds.  All in all, as the one coming out of the Hatoof who looks most likely to be forgotten on the tote board, don’t make the mistake of overlooking WINNING ENVELOPE.


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