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Hot Cha Cha Dances to Pucker Up Stakes Victory
Nelson McMakin's Hot Cha Cha made a four-wide rally in the stretch to collar 2-1 favorite Romacaca inside the final furlong en route to a 1 ¼-length victory in the Grade III $200,000 Pucker Up Stakes on Monday at Arlington Park. Trained by Philip Sims, the daughter of Cactus Ridge covered the mile and an eighth over firm turf in 1:47.67.
Well off the pace set jointly by Romacaca and 36-1 outsider Kiss Mine, Hot Cha Cha saved ground early, before angling out for the stretch drive.
"My filly was just doing enough to stay with them," said winning rider James Graham. "She wasn't giving me every little bit she had, but enough to stay and do what she was doing."
The Pucker Up win gave Graham his second graded stakes score of the afternoon. Three races earlier, the Irish-born reinsman captured the Grade III $125,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap aboard Tom Fedro Sr. & Team Block's Free Fighter.
Romacaca was 2 ½ lengths clear of third-place finisher Single Solution in the 12-horse field.
"That horse (Single Solution) showed up on the inside of her, and she wanted to go with her instead of backing off," said E. T. Baird, who rode the beaten favorite. "She ran hard. She ran game. She's going to be a really nice filly."
Hamelidaeme, C. S. Silk, Prytania, Napoleon's Retreat, Kiss Mine, Peach Brew, Bill's Presence, Hustle and Embers Glowing completed the order of finish.
Hot Cha Cha was dispatched at odds of more than 5-1 and paid $13.40, $5 and $3.80. Romacaca returned $3.40 and $3. Single Solution paid $14.60.
Also on Monday, Peter J. Karaholis's Public Speaker burst through along the rail at the sixteenth pole to overtake Exchanging Kisses and win the $100,000 Sea o'Erin Handicap by a length. Leading rider Junior Alvarado was aboard the Dale Bennett-trained son of Distorted Humor who covered the mile in 1:35.04 and paid $12.40, $6.20 and $4.40.