09/15/2012 7:18PM

Arlington Park: Leading Astray extends win streak to four in Pucker Up Stakes

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Leading Astray finishes powerfully to win the Grade 3 Pucker Up Stakes by a neck over Miss Cato.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – Angegreen, the Italian-bred Team Valor-owned filly with the Group 2 overseas placing and the name jockey, Mike Smith, was the 5-2 favorite to win the Pucker Up Stakes on Saturday at Arlington. Leading Astray, bred in Illinois, campaigned exclusively in Chicago, and ridden by nationally anonymous Eddie Perez, went off at odds of 8-1. Reputation, as so often happens, was no guide to outcome. Angegreen never picked up her feet and finished last of 12. Leading Astray came home powerfully and won her fourth straight race, capturing the Grade 3, $175,000 Pucker Up by a neck over Miss Cato.

Leading Astray, by Belong to Me, was bred and is owned by Team Block and is trained by Chris Block. About 40 minutes after the Pucker Up, the Block connection hit in another Grade 3 stakes, winning the Kentucky Turf Cup with their homebred Ioya Bigtime.

Leading Astray ($18.60) has won five of her six starts, the only blemish on her record a head loss in her second race when a rival slipped clear on a slow pace and proved uncatchable. Following that loss, she quickly ran through both her Illinois-bred allowance conditions this summer, then captured a division of the Hatoof Stakes on Aug. 18.

“The Hatoof, that was the test to see if she belonged in the Pucker Up,” Block said.

Block said he asked Perez to hold Leading Astray a little farther off the pace than she’d been in several starts this summer, harking back to her debut win in April at Hawthorne, where Leading Astray came with one big run. That Perez did, as Soonerette led through solid splits of 23.49 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 48.21 for the first half. Pace-pressing Volcat took over the lead as the field turned for home, with Miss Cato also rallying into a contending position, but Perez, racing wide, had Leading Astray in full flight. Leading Astray caught Miss Cato and Volcat inside the final furlong and pushed past for a game score.

Miss Cato, drawn poorly in post 12, finished a head in front of Volcat, who stayed on well for third, a half-length in front of Treasured Up, who launched a solid belated inside rally. Smith, aboard favored Angegreen, said the European import “seemed a little bit lost” from the start of her U.S. debut.

Leading Astray, Block said, will be pointed to one of two 3-year-old filly turf stakes – the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup or the Grade 3 Valley View – in October at Keeneland.