11/30/2014 9:32PM

Pepper Crown scores another upset in Berkeley

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Shane Micheli/Vassar Photography
Pepper Crown, ridden by Juan Hernandez, wins the Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths Sunday.

Pepper Crown ($33.40) capped a spectacular 2014 with a game victory in the $100,315, Grade 3 Berkeley Handicap at Golden Gate Fields on Sunday.

It was Pepper Crown’s third stakes victory of the year at Golden Gate Fields. He scored a $94.20 stunner in the Grade 3 San Francisco Mile in April and won the Rolling Green Stakes on Labor Day, returning $23.20. Both of those races were on the turf, while Sunday’s was on the main track.

As Marino’s Wild Cat and Everton dueled through a realistic pace, Pepper Crown was racing four wide near the back of the pack down the backstretch.

The favored Stryker Phd and Polytechnicien began to rally from the inside approaching the quarter pole, while Mr. Bowling and G. G. Ryder moved from the outside, with Mr. Bowling sticking his head in front as the field approached the eighth pole.

Juan Hernandez, riding Pepper Crown for the first time since scoring back-to-back wins on him in February, swung widest outside Mr. Bowling and G. G. Ryder and came flying as four runners, including Stryker Phd, who pushed through a hole to the inside, just beating Polytechnicien to the opening, all had a chance to win.

But with clear sailing, Pepper Crown dug in and finished strongest to win the 1 1/16-mile race by 1 1/4 lengths over G. G. Ryder in 1:44.74. Stryker Phd finished third, another length back and a half-length in front of Mr. Bowling.

“We broke good, and I was trying to save some ground, but somebody got in trouble on the turn, and they came out and forced me wide,” said Hernandez.

Despite racing wide, Hernandez said he got a clean trip and tried to bide his time before letting Pepper Crown go.

“At the quarter pole, I starting asking my horse, and he responded very well,” Hernandez said. “He’s better outside when it comes to passing horses. He surprised me. He surprised everybody today. He has a big heart.”

Alex Paszkeicz, Pepper Crown’s breeder, owner, and trainer, said he thought at the beginning of 2014 that the 4-year-old son of Peppered Cat could do well in stakes races at Golden Gate Fields.

“The horse ran farther than anyone else, and he still won,” said Paszkeicz. “He’s a good horse. He feels great, and he loves to run.”

The victory was Pepper Crown’s sixth in 14 starts this year. He earned $60,000 to increase his career earnings to $303,787, with $272,937 earned this year.