PEPPERS PRIDE TO RISK PERFECT RECORD FOR PERHAPS THE LAST TIME SUNDAY
Peppers Pride could be making the final start of her spotless career Sunday at Sunland Park in Sunland Park, N.M., when the five-year-old mare takes on seven opponents in the $125,000 New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap, a race restricted to New Mexico-bred fillies and mares.
The winner of 18 races without a loss, Peppers Pride set a modern North American record for consecutive victories when she captured her 17th straight win in an optional claiming race on October 4 at Zia Park in Hobbs, N.M. But Sunday’s performance, win or lose, could be her last as her connections mull a breeding career for their undefeated horse.
“We’ve been investigating different opportunities for stallions in Kentucky and elsewhere,” Joel Marr, the trainer of Peppers Pride, told Thoroughbred Times. “This most likely will be her last start.”
The New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap, race 10 on the Sunday card at Sunland, is slated to go off at 4:00 p.m. local, Mountain time.
Pamona Ball will take a big step up in class as she aims for her third consecutive victory and her first graded stakes win in Saturday’s Grade I, $429,500 Hollywood Starlet at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif.
Trained by Eoin Harty, Pamona Ball followed up a maiden win in October by rallying to score a one-length victory over Toro Bonito in the Sharp Cat Stakes at Hollywood in November. Both were run at the Starlet distance of 1 1/16 miles.
“She didn’t have any trouble negotiating two turns in her last two starts,” Harty said. “It’s just a big jump up in quality. Either she’s good enough or she isn’t.”
The 28th running of the Starlet drew a talented field of seven 2-year-old fillies, which will line up as follows from the rail out:
Toro Bonito, with David Flores up; Laragh, Edgar Prado; Alpha Kitten, Mike Smith; Wynning Ride, Joe Talamo; Dave’s Revenge, Kent Desormeaux; Pamona Ball, Rafael Bejarano, and Black Magic Mama, Corey Nakatani. All carry 120 pounds.
Dave’s Revenge defeated Pamona Ball while making her career debut at Del Mar on August 31. In just her second start, the daughter of The Cliff’s Edge finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies behind Stardom Bound.
“She was beaten three lengths in the Breeders’ Cup and was an inch away from being Grade I stakes-placed,” trainer Bob Hess Jr. said. “She ran a fantastic race. She’s a very good filly.”
Eastern shipper Laragh broke her maiden on Woodbine’s synthetic surface and won the Jessamine on turf at Keeneland in her fourth start. She then finished third after setting the pace in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Oak Tree at Santa Anita. Trained by John Terranova, she leads the field with earnings of $246,345.
Toro Bonito got away slowly in the Sharp Cat, but closed for second money. The Bob Baffert-trained filly will be joined by stablemate Wynning Ride. The latter broke her maiden while making her first start for Ron McAnally and was fourth in the seven-furlong Moccasin while making her second start under the care of Baffert.
Alpha Kitten has been impressive in her lone two starts. She broke her maiden in August at Del Mar, and then finished second behind speedy Mi Chiamano Mimi in the six-furlong Anoakia Stakes at Santa Anita in mid-October.
Black Magic Mama has yet to win, but trainer Doug O’Neill thought enough of the daughter of Black Mambo to enter her in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, where she finished eighth.
“She had a troubled trip in the Breeders’ Cup and finished second in a maiden race here after that,” O’Neill said. “She came back quickly in that maiden race and we gave her a good freshening. She’ll be forgotten (in the wagering), but she’s doing well enough to belong in there.”
Presious Passion was a shocking 67-to-1 winner of the W.L. McKnight Handicap last year for trainer Mary Hartmann and, although he won’t be that big a price Saturday, he probably will not be the favorite after two dull efforts in his most recent starts when finishing sixth in both the Turf Classic at Belmont Park and the Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct, both races run over ‘yielding’ ground.
Other solid contenders in a wide-open field of 12 include Sam-Son Farms’ Windward Islands, Always First and Gran Estreno. Windward Islands will arrive from trainer Mark Frostad’s winter headquarters at Fair Grounds to make his first start since a good fourth-place effort last out in the Grade II Sky Classic Stakes at Woodbine on October 25. Always First ships in from Maryland for trainer Tom Voss, who won the 2004 W.L.McKnight with Dreadnaught. Gran Estreno is the wild card in the field as the 5-year-old makes his North American stakes debut for trainer Rick Dutrow. The son of Lucky Roberto was a Group I winner on turf in Argentina in 2006 and will be making only his fourth start in the U.S., but he looked good winning an 11-furlong allowance at Meadowlands last out on October 14.
The La Prevoyante field is headed by J’ray, who should be right at home over the Calder turf course where she has won twice and finished second twice in as many races over the last two years for trainer Todd Pletcher. J’ray’s most formidable challenger in the field of 11 may be Communique, who was second in the Grade I Beverly D Stakes in August at Arlington Park and third in September’s Grade I Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park.