Puca displayed versatility reminiscent of her GI Kentucky Derby-winning sire Big Brown and blew her rivals away by 16 1/4 lengths to earn her diploma and a TDN Rising Star Wednesday afternoon at Belmont Park.

TDN reports:

Racing without Lasix, 2yo Puca allowed some early traffic to clear and was a stalking fourth upon settling before tugging Junior Alvarado up into third as favored Cara Marie (Unbridled’s Song) dictated things up front.   But that pacesetter had called it a day midway on the turn, and Puca, hard against the bit and never more than hands and heels all the way, overtook I’m a Lucky Girl (Broken Vow) at the head of the lane and turned on the afterburners in the stretch under a moderate hand ride as the 5-2 third choice.

After watching Lady Eli (Divine Park)’s powerful performance in Sunday’s GIII Miss Grillo S. at Belmont Park, Donegal head Jerry Crawford and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott discussed scratching Puca (Big Brown) out of Wednesday’s maiden contest and instead taking a shot in next week’s grassy GIII JPMorgan Chase Jessamine S. at Keeneland.

Puca,  a well-beaten seventh in her 5 1/2-furlong debut over the Saratoga main oval Aug. 10, had shown major improvement with a switch to grass and stretch to two turns when

placing a rallying third, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths, behind the aforementioned Lady Eli over the Saratoga lawn 15 days later.  Puca had trained so well on dirt since her five-furlong bullet over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track Sept. 26 that the duo decided to stick to their original game plan. Well played, gentlemen.

“We decided to stay put and I’m sure glad we did,” Crawford commented. “It’s not something that you ever expect [to win by 16 lengths] and it just leaves you very excited about the future and pleased that what you thought might be there, is there in spades. We thought Big Brown would be a great cross and obviously she ran a little like him today.”

The well-named Puca (Gaelic for ghost), bred on foal share by Crawford and Big Brown co-owner Paul Pompa Jr., was purchased for $90,000 as a KEESEP yearling.

With Crawford hopeful that her older half-brother Finnegans Wake (Powerscourt {GB}) would become a stakes winner this term–he did just that in the GIII Arlington H. July 12–the price was right to bring the bay home and campaign her under his Donegal banner.

Crawford’s ties to the winner’s family go back even further than that.

“I bought her third dam Native Boat as a weanling off a farm in Kentucky,” Crawford revealed. “Native Boat was a tremendous sprinter and won a number of stakes in Kentucky, but the reason I’m most fond of her is for a different reason. We were racing in Nebraska at Ak-Sar-Ben at the time, and when she started training for her 3-year-old season, the folks at the farm thought she was training so well that I decided to send her to Kentucky.”

Crawford continued, “We sent her to Churchill Downs for a $10,000 claiming race [in 1992] and I felt like I’d won the biggest race in the history of man kind. Forget that the place was empty on a Wednesday afternoon, it was like I just won the Triple Crown. That’s what got us from racing at Nebraska to Kentucky. And we’ve been racing on the biggest circuits since.”

He concluded, “Puca’s third dam means the world to me, personally.”

Puca’s stakes-placed dam Boat’s Ghost, meanwhile, produced a Medaglia d’Oro colt in 2014 and is back in foal to the Darley resident, according to Crawford. Her first foal Finnegans Wake, runner-up in the 2012 GI Secretariat S., finished second in last weekend’s GII John Henry Turf Championship S. at Santa Anita, respectively.

While unable to attend Wednesday’s impressive performance by Puca, Crawford and his crew weren’t left in the dark by any means.

“We mostly all were watching electronically, but at last count, I had 49 messages, so Donegal nation is plenty fired up,” said Crawford, adding that Aqueduct’s GII Demoiselle S. and possibly even the Breeders’ Cup will be discussed with Puca’s conditioner as potential targets.

Sales history: $90,000 yrl ‘13 KEESEP. Lifetime Record: 3-1-0-1, $53,632.