Purely Hot, who went from the claiming ranks to a rising star in a matter of months, makes her Woodbine debut and first start for trainer Tevis McCauley in the $150,000 Bessarabian Stakes (Can-II) Dec. 1.
With more than $210,000 in earnings this year, the former claimer was put into the Fasig-Tipton November sale and subsequently purchased for $225,000 after running an even fourth in the $200,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland, beaten just 4 1/2 lengths in the six-furlong event that included Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (gr. I) champion Groupie Doll (third).
That race followed a solid effort at Presque Isle Downs Sept. 9, where the bay mare garnered national attention with a hard-fought second-place run in the $400,000 Presque Isle Downs Masters (gr. II) just 1 1/2 lengths behind a track-record 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.88 run by Groupie Doll.
Now trained by McCauley for Unlimited Equine racing stable, the 5-year-old daughter of Pure Prize will face a tall task in Sunday's seven-furlong Polytrack event, which features a full field of 12.
"She'll have to answer the question of how she'll handle seven-eighths, but I think she ran the race of her life going 6 1/2 furlongs at Presque Isle so I don't think it'll be a problem," McCauley said. "I really like her. She seems to be quite the 'Poly' freak. She really took to that surface and she's kept some good company along the way. It says a lot about the type of filly she is."
Purely Hot has posted a pair of works at Keeneland since the sale, breezing four furlongs in :49 flat Nov. 16, followed by a five-panel effort in 1:01 3/5 Nov. 23.
"She's unbelievably quick. She's doing real well and she came back here and had two really good works," said McCauley. "We figured we'd send her up there given it's the end of the year and there's not a whole lot of options on that surface, especially for graded stakes."
An 11-time winner from 25 career starts, Purely Hot began her rise to better company when she was claimed by trainer Nick Caruso for just $4,000 out of a six-length winning effort Jan. 10 at Penn National Race Course. She was claimed away for $8,000 by John Locke and then re-claimed by Caruso for $10,000 as she strung together a five-race winning streak that included a five-length romp in Presque Isle's $100,000 Satin & Lace Stakes.
Harry Vega, who has been aboard Purely Hot for her past seven starts, will travel to Woodbine for the mount aboard the 5-2 favorite from post 6 as part of a 119-pound impost. The Bessarabian is slated as race 8 on Sunday's 10-race card, with an approximate post time of 4:26 p.m. EST.
McCauley is hopeful that the speedy bay will put in a good effort. He has plans to point her toward lofty goals in 2014 that could include a trip to the breeding shed.
"We'll definitely keep in her training and race her, but that don't mean we won't put her in foal this spring," said McCauley. "Our goal would be to get her to the Presque Isle Masters and Phoenix at Keeneland, so if we do breed her it would be some time in April so we can keep her in training until at least the Masters."
Providing steep competition in the Bessarabian is the aptly named speedster Youcan'tcatchme, who has posted three wins and a second from four starts this season including a 1 1/4-length score in the Ontario Fashion Stakes (Can-III) last time out. Justin Stein will ride the 124-pound highweight, 3-1 on the morning line, from post 2 for trainer Sam DiPasquale.
Dene Court, a multiple stakes winner at Woodbine, might be the best of the rest of the local contingent. Trained by Mark Casse for Melnyk Racing Stable, the chestnut daughter of City Zip captured the Alywow and Ontario Damsel Stakes last season, but hasn't shown her same tenacity through two starts in 2013. Her best effort came in the grassy Avowal Stakes when second, defeated three-quarters of a length, by Bessarabian rival Part the Seas. Patrick Husbands will pilot Dene Court.
Additional shippers for the Bessarabian include Strike the Moon, a five-time winner trained by Michael Trombetta. She arrives at Woodbine from a nose score in the $50,000 Municipalities Mayors Handicap at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. Queen's Award, a five-time winner trained by Eduardo Caramori, won the Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes on the turf at Keeneland last time out.
Despite the full field and difficult company, McCauley believes his hard-knocking mare can find the wire first in the Bessarabian.
"If she can hold the form of her past few starts she'll be right there. Numbers wise, she looks like the fastest horse," he said. "She worked real well on Saturday so she's telling us she's ready to run. We'll be up there Sunday and hopefully she brings her big race with her."
$150,000 Bessarabian Stakes (Can-II, Race 8, approximate post 4:26 p.m. EST), fillies & mares 3YOs & Up, seven furlongs (all weather track)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Mekong Delta (ON), G. Olguin, 117, M Mattine, 20-1
2. Youcan'tcatchme (FL), J. Stein, 124, S DiPasquale, 3-1
3. Strike the Moon (KY), L. Contreras, 115, M J Trombetta, 8-1
4. Part the Seas (ON), J. McAleney, 119, M P DePaulo, 12-1
5. Dene Court (ON), P. Husbands, 115, M E Casse, 15-1
6. Purely Hot (KY), H. Vega, 119, T Q McCauley, 5-2
7. Acting Naughty (ON), T. Kabel, 121, D C MacRae, 10-1
8. Lemon Splash (ON), G. Boulanger, 115, R P Tiller, 20-1
9. Cabo Queen (BC), J.M. Campbell, 114, S C Simon, 20-1
10. Dance to the Moon (ON), S. Ryan, 115, M J Doyle, 20-1
11. Runfor Ro (KY), J. V. Bridgmohan, B A Lynch, 20-1
12. Queen's Award (KY), E.R. Da Silva, E Caramori, 6-1