11/06/2004 12:00AM

Punch Appeal takes Pocahontas

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Steve Asmussen and Pat Day pretty much squeezed all they could out of Punch Appeal.

Making her eighth career start and about to go through the sales ring Tuesday at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, Punch Appeal gamely held off Aspen Tree to win the $109,500 at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Punch Appeal, a 2-year-old filly by the first-year sire Successful Appeal, got a great trip under Day - and needed every inch of it to win the one-turn-mile Pocahontas by a nose.

Owned in partnership by the Heiligbrodt Racing Stable and Burning Daylight Farm, Punch Appeal was the slight favorite in a field of seven in the 36th running of the Pocahontas. Always prominent after breaking fastest of all from her outside post, she was collared at the top of the stretch by Aspen Tree, then persevered under steady pressure to edge away inside the sixteenth pole before barely lasting.

"She got real leg-weary the last four or five jumps," said Day, who now has won the Pocahontas a record seven times. "She really gutted it out, showed a lot of intestinal fortitude."

Punch Appeal returned $6.20 after finishing in 1:37.77 over a fast track. Aspen Tree, the 3-1 third choice, ended a $2 exacta worth $21.80. Kota finished another 3 3/4 lengths back in third, while Burnish, the 5-2 second choice, wound up fourth after an awkward start.

Aspen Tree, a Holy Bull filly owned by Buckram Oak Farm and trained by Carl Nafzger, was making her third start.

"That's okay," Nafzger told jockey Brian Peck afterward. "Just her third start. There'll be other chances."

Asmussen, easily the victory leader among North American trainers this year, has infrequently used Day on his horses, although he recalled Saturday that Day rode his first Churchill winner.

"Snake Eyes, 1995, before we sold him," said Asmussen.

Punch Appeal is listed as Hip No. 319 in the Keeneland sale. She has won five races, including four stakes, with the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies her most notable previous win.

The Pocahontas is the top local prep for the Grade 2, $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 27.