06/02/2005 11:00PM

Puxa Saco keeps coming close

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - A month after arguably the best performance of her career, can end a long drought in stakes in Sunday's $100,000 Desert Stormer Handicap at Hollywood Park.

On May 7 at Churchill Downs, Puxa Saco finished third at 29-1 in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff Handicap at seven furlongs. The performance marked the third consecutive stakes in which she had been beaten less than a length.

Sunday's Grade 3 Desert Stormer could give Puxa Saco her first stakes win since the 2002 Moccasin Stakes, which was run over this track.

In the six-furlong Desert Stormer, Puxa Saco must win at a distance that trainer Jenine Sahadi believes is shorter than her best trip.

"I think seven-eighths is a little better for her," she said.

But Puxa Saco should have the needed pace in front of her for her late kick. The longshot Quick Cover, who won a $40,000 claiming race here on May 11, and Abounding Truth, who won the Prairie Rose Stakes in Iowa in April, have speed. Top contenders Ramatuelle and Tucked Away are closers.

Puxa Saco will be ridden by Mike Smith, who was aboard for the Humana Distaff.

"Mike will have to be closer, but we can't change her style," Sahadi said.

Puxa Saco used to run near the front, but has been a closer for the last year.

"Her style has changed dramatically," Sahadi said. "Now she sits back and makes one run."

Sahadi was pleased with Puxa Saco's performance in the Humana Distaff, the 5-year-old mare's best result in a Grade 1.

"I thought it would set up well for her," Sahadi said.

Prior to a runner-up finish in the Woodside Stakes at Bay Meadows in April, Sahadi said that Puxa Saco underwent a procedure to drain mucus from a nasal cavity. The procedure allowed her to breathe easier.

"She's too honest," Sahadi said. "She lets you know when she's training good."

Owned by Richard Rowan, Puxa Saco has won 5 of 19 starts and $336,735.

Tucked Away and Ramatuelle are the biggest threats to Puxa Saco.

Tucked Away finished third in the B Thoughtful Stakes for statebreds here on April 24.

Ramatuelle finished fourth in the Grade 3 Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap on turf at Golden Gate Fields on May 21, her first start for trainer John Sadler. Owned by Jess Jackson, Ramatuelle won twice on dirt at Santa Anita earlier this year when trained by Bruce Headley.