09/16/2004 12:00AM

Many willing to challenge proven stars


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Ticker Tape and Spotlight look like the horses in Saturday's Pucker Up Stakes at Arlington - provided you can find them.

The Pucker Up has attracted something more like a herd than a field. A total of 13 3-year-old fillies were entered in the race, a Grade 3 at nine furlongs on turf. The two favorites have not scared off the competition, though perhaps they should have.

, in from Santa Anita for trainer James Cassidy, already has 5 wins and 6 seconds in 15 grass starts, including a victory in the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park.

But she may be no better than Spotlight, who like Ticker Tape was imported from England. , who traveled from Belmont Park early this week, has started twice in this country, beating older second-level allowance horses and cruising to an easy win last month in the Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga.

"She can be a little anxious," said trainer Christophe Clement. "That's why I sent her early, to give her a chance to school all week."

Ticker Tape, imported last winter, has had an active season, making five starts between late March and early July, when she won the American Oaks. And even when she was winning in the spring, Cassidy felt Ticker Tape would do more.

"I said then we'd not gotten to the bottom of this filly yet," said Cassidy. "She seems to be tough as nails. She comes back for more and more."

Cassidy, who has his eye on the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II next month at Keeneland, gave Ticker Tape a post-American Oaks break. She returned a month ago in the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, where she was nipped at the wire by Amorama in a fast race. Kent Desormeaux has ridden Ticker Tape in her last three starts, and flies in for the Pucker Up. Spotlight gets Arlington's leading rider, Rene Douglas.

The other trainers in the race didn't expect anything this demanding.

"We might need them both to stub their toes to win it," said David Carroll, who trains Lenatareese. "We have a lot of respect for those horses. They've already done it."

But Lenatareese has upset potential. She has won her only two starts on turf, and overcame trouble with a big stretch run to win the Audubon Oaks at Ellis Park in her last start.

"She's a small filly, but she's very athletic, and she's got a great turn of foot," Carroll said.