Opal Ridge Proving A Rare Gem For Pepper

Luke Pepper will have his first runner in a major when Opal Ridge contests the Tattersall’s Tiara.

From the picnic races at Mudgee last Saturday to saddling up his first Group 1 runner, Luke Pepper has experienced racing’s full gamut this week.

The Scone horseman has Opal Ridge poised to contest Saturday’s $700,000 Tattersall’s Tiara over 1400 metres at Eagle Farm, the exciting filly backed into $3.30 favouritism after drawing ideally in barrier six.

The Group 1 arena is a long way from the country and picnic circuits where Pepper has more recently been plying his trade and where he produced a double – at Coonamble – on Sunday.

“It is crazy. We had a runner at the picnics last Saturday at Mudgee too, so talk about going from one end of the mountain to the other,” Pepper said.

“It’s great to have a runner in a Group 1 and to have a live chance, I’m incredibly proud of my staff to get to where we are.”

After narrowly missing a start in the Stradbroke Handicap, Opal Ridge tackled the Dane Ripper Stakes as her final lead-up to the Tatt’s Tiara.

It was a hard watch for Pepper and her supporters alike, the filly trapped deep throughout from a wide draw but still managing to finish a close second.

Importantly, she came through the effort unscathed, and Pepper says the three-year-old has continued to thrive in the warmer Queensland climes.

“One thing she has been the whole way through is incredibly tough,” Pepper said.

“I think the run has done her the world of good. She was four weeks between runs into that and she is really enjoying her time in Queensland.

“She came through the next day in terrific order, she was bright and kicking her brands off on the walker.”

While disappointed to miss a Stradbroke start, the Tiara has always been the primary goal for Opal Ridge.

It is why Pepper chose not to run her in the lead-up to the Stradbroke to try to vault her up the order of entry.

If that patience pays off, the man renowned as the former track work rider of champion sprinter Takeover Target could join the ranks of Group 1-winning trainers.

“As a track work rider, I’ve ridden plenty of horses that have run in Group 1s,” Pepper said.

“I’ve been there and experienced the whole thing, although it’s a new ballpark when it’s in your name and a little bit more pressure involved. But, at the same time, I’m really excited.”

A capacity field of 17 plus five emergencies have been paid up for the final Group 1 race of the 2022-23 racing season including Dane Ripper Stakes winner Comrade Rosa, who has drawn gate five, and Robert Sangster Stakes victor Ruthless Dame, who has barrier 19.

– Racing Queensland

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