09/04/2010 1:19PM

Dundalk Dust takes a shot in Pucker Up

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – The Pucker Up Stakes for 3-year-old turf fillies has found a nice niche in the 3-year-old filly turf division, producing the winner of the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland three times since 2004. The Grade 3 Pucker Up, however, fell victim to early-summer Arlington stakes cuts, its purse reduced from $200,000 to $100,000.

Maybe it’s the money, perhaps it’s simply softness in the division, but this year’s edition looks decidedly less strong than in recent seasons. The 10 horses entered in Monday's Pucker Up have combined to make 89 starts, but the group has collectively scored only two stakes wins.

“My filly’s not top-end quality, but she’ll run as hard as she can, and hopefully that will pick up a piece of it,” trainer Chris Block said of Dundalk Dust, one of two horses Block entered in the 1 1/8-mile Pucker Up.

Block, who won the Pucker Up and the QE II with Vacare in 2006, said Dundalk Dust “is a stronger horse now” than when she finished a distant third on Polytrack in her lone prior stakes start, the Grade 3 Arlington Oaks. Dundalk Dust, a strapping daughter of Military, is 2 for 2 in turf races, albeit while facing Illinois-bred competition, and should have no trouble staying the Pucker Up’s nine furlongs.

Making her stakes debut is the likely Pucker Up favorite, La Cloche, who also has a QE II connection: her dam, Memories of Silver, won the race in 1996 for trainer Jimmy Toner and the Phillips Racing Partnership. La Cloche started her career with four losses but has responded favorably to the addition of blinkers this summer. La Cloche won a Belmont maiden race by more than two lengths June 27 and came back Aug. 8 with another victory over Saratoga entry-level allowance foes going 1 3/16 miles.

“Blinkers have made a big difference,” Toner said. “She’s mature physically, but she’s sort of immature mentally, and blinkers have helped her focus on what she needs to be doing.”

Cave Creeker has finished third or better in all seven of her turf-route starts and has turned in strong stretch runs in four recent Arlington grass races. Kilmore Quay showed little here in the May 22 American 1000 Guineas, her North American debut, but was an improved second July 17 in the Grade 3 Virginia Oaks.