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Leading Astray Runs Straight to Pucker Up Stakes Victory
Team Block's Illinois-bred filly Leading Astray rallied from well off the pace to win the Grade III Pucker Up Stakes in a three-horse blanket finish to prevail by a neck over Miss Cato and Volcat in the mile and an eighth grass test that went in 1:49.28.
Eduardo Perez was aboard the Chris Block-trained daughter of Belong to Me earn his first victory in the Pucker Up. It was the second win in the race for Block, who captured the 2006 edition with Lothenbach Stable's Vacare.
The Pucker Up was the second straight stakes victory of the Arlington season for Leading Astray, who in her last trip to the post won a division of the $65,000 Hatoof Stakes to convince her connections to take a shot against graded stakes competition.
"She had run through her (allowance) conditions and she got a little better with each start," Block said. "Then in the Hatoof (on Aug. 18), I told my dad (owner David Block) this would be the test to see if we were good enough for the Pucker Up. She stepped up that day. She trained great in between the Hatoof and today. I felt really good about the race. I'm proud of her and her mama (Taxable Deduction) who puts out nothing but runners."
Leading Astray is the second graded stakes winner out of her dam, who also produced two-time Stars and Stripes winner Free Fighter and the graded stakes-placed colt Suntracer. She earned $97,650 for the Pucker Up score to boost her bankroll to $227,887.
Miss Cato was second just a head in front Volcat for the place money.
"She ran huge," said Francisco Torres, who was riding the runner-up for the first time. "Not knowing her, the assistant (trainer) filled me in. She said last time she had a little bit much to do. All I did was try to get her in a clear spot around the first turn. I couldn't ask for a better trip, we just got outrun the last seven yards. I was hoping the Block filly could kind of carry me, but she had the jump on me."
"She ran great," said Volcat's jockey, Robby Albarado. "A lot people doubted this filly after (she won) Virginia Oaks but now she's proved she's the real deal. She should have a great year."
Treasured Up, Freedom Reigns (IRE), Soonerette, Zapper Belle, Ann of the Dance, Dame Marie, Rare Event, Julia's Star and the favorite Angegreen completed the order of finish.
"No real problems," said Mike Smith of his trip aboard the beaten favorite who was making her North American debut. "It was just her first time out in this country and she just got a little lost."
Leading Astray returned $18.60, $8 and $5.80. Miss Cato paid $6.80 and $4.40. Volcat paid $5.60.
Earlier in the day, a pair of state-bred overnight handicaps were raced. Nancy Vanier & Lyda Williamson's Kepi rallied from last to take the $66,100 Lady Lionel Handicap. James Graham rode the daughter of Strategic Mission who covered the "about' one mile on the turf in 1:36.12 and paid $9.40, $3.80 and $2.40.
Midwest Thoroughbreds' The Pizza Man got up in the final stride to win the $66,300 Tex's Zing Handicap by a nose over Tazz. The only 3-year-old in the race, the son of English Channel covered the "about" one mile and one-sixteenth on the turf in 1:41.97 and paid $9, $4 and $3.20.