09/06/2006 11:00PM

Walklikeanegyptian iffy, but worth trying at 12-1


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The betting public appears likely to view Saturday's Grade 3 Pucker Up Stakes as predominantly a two-filly matchup between Soothsay, the third-place finisher from the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks, and Vacare, who has won both of her starts in effortless fashion.

I see contention running deeper. Both of the favorites have question marks, despite their flashy race records. So I plan to go shopping for a price, and the filly that fits the bill is Walklikeanegyptian, who sits at 12-1 on the morning line.

Admittedly, she also enters the race with question marks. Two for six since being imported to American from Britain, she has gone unplaced in two attempts in stakes company. Additionally, she has run quickly just once - when she won a second-level allowance over soft going at Arlington Aug. 25 with an 87 Beyer. On firm surfaces, her top Beyer is an 80.

Provided the course is firm for Saturday's Pucker Up, she will need to run much faster than that to win. A Beyer in the upper 80's or low 90's would likely be needed to win.

But Walklikeanegyptian strikes me as a filly that might be ready for a forward move. She has always been a filly that has shown promise, and now accustomed to U.S. racing, she seems to be elevating her game to a higher level.

Her natural progression, more so than catching a soft course in her last start, may have been the reason for earning a career-best 87 Beyer. One thing I know, at 12-1 odds on the morning line, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

She is certainly in the right spot to try the leap into graded company. In part because the Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup on Saturday at Belmont Park drew many of the better 3-year-old fillies in the country, the Pucker Up has a relatively unaccomplished field. There is not a graded winner in the lineup, though there are some promising runners that could ultimately become top stakes competitors.

Soothsay is certainly the most battle-tested entrant. A stakes winner at Golden Gate in April, she stepped into graded company in California over the summer months and performed respectably. She ran third in the Grade 2 San Clemente at Del Mar on July 29, and followed that race with a third when moved up on a disqualification in the Grade 1 Del Mark Oaks Aug. 19.

I am reluctant to take her at a short price, however, given that the 3-year-old turf fillies in California appear to be of lesser quality than what we have seen in recent years. Wait a While and Lady of Venice act like the top two 3-year-old turf fillies in the country at the moment, and neither raced in the San Clemente or Del Mar Oaks. They were based on the East Coast this summer.

What Soothsay does have are consistently good Beyer Speed Figures and a trainer, Jim Cassidy, who has a proven record when it comes to developing 3-year-old turf fillies. In one notable example, Ticker Tape, a standout 3-year-old turf filly for Cassidy in 2004, won the Pucker Up and followed that with a victory in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Keeneland.

As for the eye-catching Vacare, she is an exciting long-term prospect, but I am concerned about her inexperience and preparation. Her connections had hoped to run her in the Aug. 19 Hatoof Stakes as a prep for the Pucker Up, but she was scratched after she coughed in the days leading up to the race. She is reportedly well now, but an interrupted racing schedule heading into a big stakes may leave her less than 100 percent primed for a peak effort.

Other key entrants in the Pucker Up include Precious Kitten, Ballet Pacifica, and Palace Rumor.

Gouldings Green the pick at Turfway Park

Saturday's Turfway Park Fall Championship is another fine betting race. A full field of 12 was entered, and one horse, J Town, is on the also eligible list.

Contested at 1 1/8 miles over Polytrack, the race is interesting in that it drew some turf horses in addition to horses that regularly run on dirt. Foremost among the turf-to-Polytrack runners is Honor in War, who won the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic in 2003.

Honor in War, cross-entered in Saturday's John Henry Stakes at Arlington, is expected to run at Turfway. I can understand why. If he were to win or perform well, it would open up opportunities for him and perhaps increase his value as a potential stallion by proving he is not strictly a turf horse.

My choice is Gouldings Green, who has been skillfully managed by Tony Reinstedler this year by being placed in mostly in Grade 3 or ungraded events. With regular rider Corey Lanerie aboard, he looks tough to beat.