12/23/2004 1:00AM

Cajun Pepper up for challenge in Riley Allison


The undefeated Cajun Pepper will face the biggest test of his career Sunday, when he attempts to win his fifth consecutive race in the $161,254 at Sunland Park near El Paso.

A 6 1/2-furlong sprint, the Riley Allison is one of two stakes on the 11-race card, the other being the $400,000 The Championship for Quarter Horses. The winner of the Riley Allison gets a berth into the richest race of the meet, the $500,000 WinStar Derby on April 2.

Trainer Ramon Gonzalez would like to see Cajun Pepper be a part of that field. Up until now, Cajun Pepper has been untested, winning his four career starts by a combined 22 1/2 lengths. Two of those wins came against Colorado-breds, including his lone stakes win in the $33,000 Colorado Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Futurity.

In his first start against open company in a stakes, Cajun Pepper should go favored over some significant rivals. Among the other nine colts and geldings in the field are Expect Will, a three-time stakes winner of $245,042, and Railroad, winner of the $54,000 Gold Rush Futurity at Arapahoe Park in September.

Cajun Pepper defeated Railroad in the Dec. 10 trials for the Riley Allison, when he won off by 7 1/2 lengths, covering the 6 1/2 furlongs in a sharp 1:15.20.

"He ran the fastest trial easy," said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez had jockey Alex Jimenez tap Cajun Pepper with his whip once in the stretch so the horse, who had never felt the whip in a race, would know what to expect if things were tight in the trial. When hit, Cajun Pepper put another four lengths between himself and the field to record the biggest margin of victory in his career.

Cajun Pepper wired the field in his debut race, scoring a 5 1/2-length win in July, but has also shown a willingness to sit behind the leaders.

"It doesn't matter to him," said Gonzalez. "He's won from off the pace and wire to wire. He's real smart. He does everything right. He's just a racehorse."

Cajun Pepper, who races for Harry Veruchi and Eli Diamant, figures to assume a stalking position from post 9

Expect Will, who could also stalk from post 7, won the other trial for the Riley Allison. He covered the distance in 1:16.40 and won by three-quarters of a length over Voronin. Expect Will began to prepare for the Riley Allison after his powerful win in the $50,000 Groovy at seven furlongs at Sam Houston Race Park on Nov. 20. He has also won stakes at five and 5 1/2 furlongs, and leading trainer Steve Asmussen said the distance of the Riley Allison is a nice fit for Expect Will.

Dominic Terry, who rode Expect Will in his trial, again has the mount for Heiligbrodt Racing Stable.