09/05/2008 12:00AM

Bel Air Sizzle has strong late kick


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The Pucker Up has turned into a little gem of a grass stakes tucked into the tail of Arlington's long summer race meet.

Two times in the last four years - Vacare in 2006, Ticker Tape in 2004 - the Pucker Up winner has captured the prestigious Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, and last year's winner, Dreaming of Anna, finished second in that race. There may be another QE II contender among the 13 entries in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Pucker Up, which shares headline status with the Arlington-Washington Lassie.

California shippers have won the Pucker Up three of the last five years, and another one, Bel Air Sizzle, could be favored Saturday. Bel Air Sizzle regularly turns in sub-24-second final quarter-miles, and she comes off a closing second-place finish last month in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks. What she has not done is finished first in a stakes race of any kind. Her most recent victory came via disqualification in a California-bred stakes last April.

Bel Air Sizzle's come-from-the-clouds style could play well in a race that has plenty of early pace, and at nine furlongs, the Pucker Up is the right distance for Bel Air Sizzle, who came out of the Aug. 16 Del Mar Oaks "in great shape," according to trainer Barry Abrams.

"I was scouring the country looking for a mile-and-an-eighth turf race for her," said Abrams.

While Bel Air Sizzle is Abrams's first Arlington starter, the Woodbine-based Much Obliged was just here in May to win the inaugural American 1,000 Guineas with a flashy late run. Five weeks later, Much Obliged was a good second to My Princess Jess in the Boiling Springs at Monmouth, but handicappers will be asked to forgive a last-place finish Aug. 15 in the Lake Placid at Saratoga. There, trainer Malcolm Pierce was surprised to see Much Obliged up on the pace going into the first turn, and, caught wide all the way on a wet course she disliked, Much Obliged never fired.

Closeout also exits a Saratoga turf stakes, having finished a troubled second to Ariege in a listed race Aug. 9. Plagued by difficult trips, Closeout still has won half her six starts.

"She's a hair hesitant coming out of the gate, and she usually has a bad trip because of it," said trainer Tom Proctor, who also entered second-time turfer Tight Precision.

Dreaming of Liz is no relation to Dreaming of Anna, but has the same human connections. A confirmed front-runner, Dreaming of Liz finished sixth in her lone turf try, and could easily hook up with Lucky Copy on a testing pace. Lucky Copy herself could have a say: On Arlington Million Day she won the second division of the Hatoof Stakes in a time almost four seconds faster than the first division winner.

Honor Glide: Prime Realestate takes drop

Trainer Wayne Catalano was high on the 3-year-old grass horse Prime Realestate coming into the Arlington season. The colt had won an allowance race at Keeneland, and when Prime Realestate rallied strongly for a second-place finish in the May 24 Arlington Classic, Catalano's bullishness seemed justified.

But things have just not worked out. In the July 12 American Derby, Prime Realestate caught a soft turf course on which he barely could stand up, and in the Secretariat Stakes, he ran into the buzzsaw named Winchester, who won off by more than seven lengths.

Saturday, in the $50,000 Honor Glide, Prime Realestate class-drops into what might be a winning spot, but the nine-furlong Honor Glide came up salty for an overnight turf stakes. Other leading contenders include Cherokee Triangle, the leading earning among the 10 horses entered; California invader Robscarvic; and Veiled Prophet, narrowly beaten by Cherokee Triangle last month at Ellis Park.