Undefeated Peppers Pride left the door open for a challenge, but once again she proved too tough for her state-bred competitors, holding sway for her record 18th consecutive win in the $177,615 New Mexico Cup Fillies & Mares Stakes at Zia Park Nov. 9.
After a wide trip and an early move to take the lead leaving the final turn in the one-mile event, jockey Carlos Madeira had to ask the 5-year-old mare for her best in the final furlong to hold off pacesetter La Sorpresa by one length. Silver Expression, who made a menacing move coming into the stretch after rallying from well behind, flattened out late to finish third, three-quarters of a length farther back. The final time was 1:38.20.
"We spent a long time in the gate, but then we got a perfect trip," said Madeira afterward. "I just took her back and let her make her run."
Sent off at 2-5, Peppers Pride won for the seventh time at Zia Park while scoring a repeat win in the New Mexico Cup, an event she won by two lengths last year. Peppers Pride, whose career earnings swelled to $991,805 for owner/breeder Joe Allen with the $106,500 winning share, has raced exclusively against New Mexico-bred females.
Peppers Pride won her 17th straight race and broke the modern-day North American Thoroughbred record for consecutive wins in an optional claiming allowance victory at Zia Park Oct. 4. In doing so, she passed the all-time greats Citation and Cigar, as well as Mister Frisky and Hallowed Dreams, who had all won 16 races in succession.
With Peppers Pride tentatively set to go to the breeding shed next year, trainer Joel Marr has at least one more start scheduled for her, the $125,000 New Mexico State Racing Commission Handicap Dec. 14 at Sunland Park. While Allen is reportedly leaning toward retirement for the hard-knocking dark bay daughter of Desert God, he and Marr have not made a final decision on her future.
"We'll see how it goes and let her tell us what's best," Marr said.
Peppers Pride's all-time record has focused attention on New Mexico racing and pressure on Marr has increased, Marr acknowledged. "We want to win every time, so the pressure grows," he said.
Starting from next to the outside post, Peppers Pride was stuck four wide briefly after a short run into the first turn before settling into the second group of horses rounding the bend. La Sorpresa, ridden by Mark Villa, went to the lead from her inside post and carved easy fractions of :24.54 and :48.48 for the first half-mile. Miss Possibility pressed early, but began to fade after a half-mile to be replaced in second by Look Buca Di Beppo.
La Sorpresa and Look Buca Di Beppo dueled through six furlongs in 1:13.05, but 38-1 shot La Sorpresa proved stubborn as her pace rival weakened. Peppers Pride, after falling back a bit on the backstretch, moved up three wide nearing the quarter pole under slight urging and was in control as the leaders reached the top of the stretch.
Peppers Pride had command in upper stretch as Silver Expression and Miguel Perez loomed into contention. La Sorpresa looked beaten along the inside, but found more after drifting out in the lane and appeared to be gaining on Peppers Pride's outside. Madeira, who has ridden Peppers Pride in all of her races, used steady encouragement in the final furlong to get home on top.
The winner, at equal weight of 123 pounds with each of her rivals except the 3-year-old filly La Sorpresa, paid $2.80, $2.60, and $2.10. La Sorpresa, making her second start against older females for trainer Eric Mikkelson, ran a game second and returned $15 and $5.80. The $2 exacta was worth $37.20. Second choice Silver Expression, runner-up to Peppers Pride in her record-breaking win last month, was $3 to show.
In the $188,730 New Mexico Cup Classic, which preceded the Peppers Pride race, Ky's Quest, under Alfredo Juarez Jr., blew home late to win the one-mile event by a half-length over Fullofenergy, who ran out of gas after opening a three-length lead inside the eighth pole. The final time was 1:37 3/5. Slewjoe finished third.
Ky's Quest, a 4-year-old Night Fright gelding bred, owned, and trained by Clifford C. Lambert, earned $113,100 for his seventh lifetime win in 29 starts and boosted his bankroll to $398,106. He paid $10.20 for the win. Some Ghost, who won the New Mexico Cup Classic last year and was sent off at odds of 1-2 this time, finished fourth.
Other New Mexico Cup Thoroughbred winners included the Marr-trained Blue Eyed Bella in the $152,690 Juvenile Fillies Stakes; Etoile de Dome in the $150,460 Filly Stakes for 3-year-olds; 76-1 shot El Dramo in the $151,575 Colts & Geldings Stakes for 3-year-olds; favored Lefty Who in the $152,690 Juvenile Colts & Geldings Stakes; and favored Cattleman Prospect in the $181,575 Championship Sprint Stakes. Cattleman Prospect won the six-furlong event in 1:08.64, just .04 off the track record.