11/24/2004 1:00AM

'Peppermint' rises above price tag

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It's not often that a $1,700 purchase wins a berth into a $500,000 race, but that's what Sandias Peppermint accomplished Sunday when he won the $130,000 Red Hedeman Mile at Sunland Park. With the win, he earned a berth into the WinStar Derby on April 2.

Rocky Gulch, the winner of last year's Red Hedeman, went on to finish third in the WinStar.

The WinStar is a long-range goal for Sandias Peppermint, who traveled 12 hours by van for the Red Hedeman. He is based in College Station, Texas, and has won 4 of 7 starts and $131,355. Sandias Peppermint was purchased at the Ruidoso summer mixed sale in 2003.

Trainer Jackie Riddle said Sandias Peppermint could cut back to six furlongs for his next start, perhaps in the $125,000 Pepsi-Cola Handicap at Sunland on Jan. 15. A definite goal for the horse, she said, is the $100,000 Borderland Derby at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 27.

So far, Sandias Peppermint has been effective around one turn or two.

"He's qualified for two futurities, and run third in both of them," said Riddle.

Riddle, 49, was born in New Mexico. She ships in to run from Texas, and has resumed training recently after spending time working for a sales company and ponying horses. She last trained in the 1980's.

WinStar Derby will be broadcast live

The WinStar Derby broadcast in April will mark Sunland's live-television debut. Sunland's two signature races, the derby and the $250,000-added WinStar Sunland Park Oaks, will be part of a two-hour live telecast on ESPN2 that is slated to start at 5 p.m. Eastern. The first hour will feature the Grade 1 Florida Derby, with the two Sunland races making up the second hour.

The Sunland events have had an impact on the national racing scene in their brief history. The inaugural winners in 2003 - Island Fashion and Excessivepleasure - both went on to win graded stakes. Island Fashion, in fact, has become a multiple Grade 1 winner of more than $1.6 million and is expected to take another shot at a Grade 1 in Hollywood Park's Matriarch on Sunday.

- additional reporting by Michael Hammersly