08/31/2008 12:00AM

Peppers Pride in the hunt for a sweet 17


The bottom line in racing is winning, and few horses have met that objective better over the past three years than Peppers Pride. She is undefeated in 16 starts, and if she wins her 17th career race Sunday at Ruidoso Downs in the $67,500 Lincoln Handicap, she will set a new standard for consecutive wins by a North American-based Thoroughbred.

The task is not simple, even though Peppers Pride will be favored to defend her Lincoln title over eight New Mexico-bred fillies and mares. She was sitting on tilt for a start in the six-furlong race a month ago. But then the rains came - some seven inches left over from Hurricane Dolly, flooding Ruidoso and forcing the track to cancel its entire card the afternoon of July 27, including the Lincoln. The consuming job of keeping Peppers Pride on top of her game for a historic race that she gets just one shot at has fallen to her lifelong trainer, Joel Marr.

"It's been difficult because we were peaked to run on that day and got all the way up to that day, and not only did we not run, we didn't get to train for a week afterward," said Marr, 41. "It was not only a physical letdown for her, but a mental letdown. These last two weeks, I feel like she's peaking again and is ready for the race."

The Lincoln will be the first start in four months for Peppers Pride, who will spot her rivals between 10 and 14 pounds. She also drew post 2, which is farther inside than Marr had been hoping for. But those kinds of variables have become constants for Peppers Pride.

Her success quickly propelled her into the stakes ranks, and races for the New Mexico-bred filly and mare division just don't fall into place on the calendar. Her win last out in the $75,000 Foutz Distaff Handicap at SunRay Park on April 26 came off a one-month layoff, and before that she won off a four-month layoff in the $100,000 Sydney Valentini Handicap at Sunland Park.

Marr said he feels good about the mare's fitness heading into the Lincoln, and he is proud of what Peppers Pride, 5, has already accomplished in her career. She shares the modern North American record of 16 straight wins with Cigar, Citation, Hallowed Dreams, and Mister Frisky.

"To be tied with them for the most consecutive wins, that's an honor in itself," said Marr, who trains Peppers Pride for her breeder, Joe Allen. "To be on our own up there would be extremely special. For everybody that has been involved with her, it would just be something we could keep the rest of our lives and look back on. It would be a great accomplishment, even though it just kind of happened. It wasn't a goal that we set out to break any record."

Marr said the record was first mentioned to him when Peppers Pride won her 10th race. Her streak began fittingly enough at Ruidoso, when she won her career debut in a trial race on July 16, 2005. As the victories began to mount, life changed for Marr.

"It's been a lot of pressure, but it's been just a constant in your life," he said. "You wake up and you think about your kids and your family, and then you think about her. You go to bed at night and do the same thing."

Peppers Pride has kept all of her connections, including the only rider she has ever known, Carlos Madeira, dreaming for some time now of a record 17th win. The dream can become a reality on Sunday.