Pepper Finds Confidence In Opal’s Ability To Adapt

It’s a handy position to be in to know your horse can handle just about anything a race can throw at them and that’s the situation trainer Luke Pepper finds himself in with promising filly Opal Ridge.

Luke Pepper (Pic: Bradley Photos)

The three-year-old has won five of her eight starts and if she enhances that record in the Group 3 $200,000 China Horse Club PJ Bell Stakes (1200m) at Randwick on Saturday he may plot a path to a Group 1 during the winter.

Opal Ridge overcame being ridden further back than she’s ever been before in her dominant first-up win in the Listed Darby Munro (1200m) on Golden Slipper Day and while that’s unlikely to be the case again Pepper said having options is a real plus.

“We snagged her straight out the back door the other day,’’ he said.

“I think she is better ridden a little off the speed but she doesn’t have to go back as far as she did.

“She’s so adaptable, she’s won sitting on the speed and off it, she’s won on heavy 10 and a good 4. There’s not many around that can go like she can under any circumstance so we’re lucky like that.

“It takes a lot of pressure off and you can concentrate on which race you want to be in.”

Pepper dipped Opal Ridge’s toes in the water at Group company at her fourth start and she ran a respectable race in the Group 2 Silver Shadow in the spring.

She won a Highway at her next start then began climbing the ladder with a second in the Listed Heritage Stakes and an easy win over Pericles in the $500,000 Tapp-Craig (1400m) on a heavy track.

What adds merit to her first-up win, away from the outside draw and start conceded, doesn’t show up in the form guide and that’s the fact she travelled to Melbourne for the Inglis Sprint on March 4 only to be scratched after suffering an abrasion to a shin en-route to the race.

“She did a big job, she had to travel down and back and she had a quick turnaround once we got home to run at Rosehill,’’ Pepper said.

“Then when the draw came out it flattened me a bit but we had no option than to ride her quiet.

“We got a bit of luck on straightening and she was really dominant. I wasn’t expecting her to do what she did but she tends to take it to the next level on race day.”

The Scone trainer wanted a middle barrier for the PJ Bell and got his wish when Opal Ridge, $2.40 favourite with TAB on Wednesday, came up with gate 10 in a capacity field of 18.

He said he has every reason to be confident there’s improvement to come with a run under the belt and is looking to the Group 1 Tatt’s Tiara (1400m) in June as a possible long range target if her upward trend continues.

It’s a really nice progression for her on Saturday,’’ he said.

“We had to take on the boys the other day and she was brave. But there’s no hiding, they are all nice horses and she’s got to keep stepping up.

“If she keeps stepping up the Brisbane winter might be a great option for her.”

Pepper has pencilled in the Group 3 $200,000 James HB Carr Stakes (1400m) at Randwick on April 15 before any decisions on Brisbane are made.

– Racing NSW

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