Trainer Joel Marr said he and Joe Allen, the 5-year-old mare's owner and breeder, plan to run the undisputed queen of New Mexico racing in the $75,000 Russell & Helen Foutz Distaff Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs. Peppers Pride won her 15th successive race at Sunland Park March 23.
"It's been something really special," Marr, 40, said April 11 of the streak.
Marr reported Peppers Pride "is doing really good" since her last win, the $100,000 Sydney Valentini Handicap over state-breds at a mile, which was her first start in more than three months. Marr said Allen "is getting pretty nervous" as the record approaches while the trainer has been able to maintain an even approach. "He's a little more excitable than I am," he explained.
All of Peppers Pride's wins, including 11 stakes victories, have come against horses bred in the Land of Enchantment. Marr makes no apologies to those who would prefer to see her step up to a bigger stage to equal the record. Should she win at SunRay, the dark bay or brown daughter of Desert God would likely remain in New Mexico for a shot at breaking the mark this summer at Ruidoso Downs or Zia Park.
"This is what she was bred to do, to race against New Mexico horses," Marr said, noting the lucrative breeder incentives and top purses due to slot machine revenue at the state's racetracks. "There's no reason to take her anyplace else. The idea was to race her in New Mexico, win races and to have some fun."
It is hard to fault the $816,665 in earnings she has amassed so far, either.
"It bothers you a little bit," Marr said of the criticism that Peppers Pride needs to prove she belongs in the same class as the others. "But those people are wanting something that's not going to happen.
"We know we couldn't beat those horses," he said in reference to Cigar and Citation. "But Hallowed Dreams couldn't either, and Mister Frisky probably couldn't. That doesn't take away from what they did. I know we're not in the caliber of horses racing at Keeneland and Churchill and some of these other tracks. But this is horse racing and to accomplish what she has isn't easy."
The streak, Marr said, has always been secondary. "She's had some close races and she's been extremely lucky a couple of times. She won a race by a nose in a head-bob at Zia (in 2006). She loses that and we're not even talking about this. If she were to quit tomorrow, with all that she's done, well, that would be great."
Marr credited jockey Carlos Madeira, who has ridden her in all of her starts, with keeping Peppers Pride out of trouble and for not getting to the lead too soon in her races, as she tends to ease up when she's in front. He also notes she has a routine that she's comfortable and familiar with. The mare not only has had the same owner, trainer and jockey throughout her career, but also the same farrier and groom.
"I think that's gotta' be part of it," he said. "We all know what she needs and we take care of her."
At Sunland, where she is presently stabled, Peppers Pride occupies the same stall she has had for the past two years. She still wears the same bridle she started with during the summer of 2005 and Marr has never made any sort of equipment change with her.
She's easy to deal with around the barn, he said, but all business on the track. "There's something special about her that keeps her winning," Marr said. "She becomes very focused when she knows it's time (to race). She's ready to do it. And she loves to train. She'd train hard every day if she could. She becomes very aggressive on the racetrack."
Peppers Pride usually prefers to race from slightly off the pace and make her bid on the final turn. She has prevailed in the stretch drive every time, once by as little as a nose and twice by a neck, up to as many as seven lengths. Marr thinks Peppers Pride's best distance is a mile (three-for-three in her career), but since there aren't that many stakes opportunities in the New Mexico distaff division at that distance, most of her races have been sprints.
"It always worries me a little bit," he said of the possibility Peppers Pride could fall victim to racing luck while sprinting and not be able to recover. "She has speed but she's not a speedster. I personally think that the longer (the distance), the better."
Peppers Pride has been favored in 10 of her starts and odds-on in eight of those. At SunRay, a six-furlong track, she'll likely be a heavy choice once again while going for the record-tying win around two turns.
She began her career in a 5 1/2-furlong trial race at Ruidoso July 16, 2005, winning by 4 1/2 lengths. Two starts later, she and her full sister, Desert Pride, both won stakes during the New Mexico Cup at Zia in November 2005. Peppers Pride won the New Mexico Juvenile Filly that day while Desert Pride, a year older than her sibling, captured the New Mexico Filly Stakes.
Peppers Pride is out of the Chilli Pepper Pie mare Lady Pepper (1987), who died a couple of years ago, Marr said. A four-time winner in 49 lifetime starts, the dam produced four foals. Desert Pride, a winner of three of 14 races and $102,260, is also deceased.
Allen, along with his brother Ronald, also owns the sire, Desert God, who is a son of Fappiano out of the 1982 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Blush With Pride.