11/09/2007 1:00AM

Peppers Pride knows only winning

EmailPeppers Pride, a 4-year-old filly who has been racing since July 2005, still does not know defeat. A winner of all 12 of her starts, she is the star of the New Mexico-bred program and the horse to beat Sunday in the $170,000 Fillies and Mares Championship at Zia Park.

The six-furlong race is one of 11 statebred stakes worth a cumulative $2 million on the New Mexico Cup card. Seven of the stakes - worth a total of $1 million - are for Thoroughbreds and the other four are for Quarter Horses.

In its third running, the New Mexico Cup is the most lucrative statebred day in the nation with the exception of Sunshine Millions Day, which is for both California- and Florida-breds. The richest New Mexico-bred Thoroughbred of all time, Rocky Gulch, runs Sunday in the $170,000 Sprint at Zia, the Hobbs, N.M., racino. He has earned $1,110,928.

The state's gold standard, Rocky Gulch has now been equaled, and maybe surpassed, in popularity by Peppers Pride. She is making a run at history, and is just four wins from tying racing's modern mark for consecutive victories, 16, which is shared by Cigar, Citation, Hallowed Dreams, and Mister Frisky. Hallowed Dreams, who raced mostly in Louisiana, and Mister Frisky, who began his career in Puerto Rico, were unbeaten in their first 16 races.

Peppers Pride can move closer to the record Sunday, when she takes on 11 fillies and mares, eight of whom she has defeated recently. Peppers Pride has raced exclusively against statebreds in New Mexico since winning her debut at 2. Along the way, grit and desire have helped her win eight stakes and $572,465.

"She wants to win," said Joel Marr, who trains Peppers Pride for her breeder, Joe Allen. "She could have been beaten a couple of times. She's had some close races, but she just finds a way to win.

"She's smart. She's a good gate horse. She's not afraid to be on the fence. She's not afraid to split horses. She's good enough to go around them. A lot of it's just her, things that you can't teach them. She just has the natural ability to do a lot of those things and not get bothered."

Peppers Pride is a daughter of Desert God, an unraced son of Fappiano foaled in 1991. Allen stands the horse in New Mexico.

"The mare side is so strong," Allen said of Desert God's pedigree. "His half-sister [Better Than Honour] produced Rags to Riches and Jazil. He's just a really nice horse. I purchased him from the University of Arizona. He stood there. I bought him when he was 9."

Allen, a 61-year-old whose principle business is a restaurant in his hometown of Abilene, Texas, raced his first horse in 1980. In the past 10 years he has become actively involved in breeding, and has 20 broodmares. His program is topped by Peppers Pride, who is the last foal from Lady Pepper, who died a year after giving birth to the filly.

Marr, 40, said Peppers Pride is the best horse to come through his barn in his 17 years as a trainer. Along with talent, stability has played a role in her success. Marr said the filly has been handled by the same core of horsemen her entire career, among them Carlos Madeira, the only jockey to have ridden her, and Armando Gonzalez, who has been her groom since Day 1.

Peppers Pride comes into the Fillies and Mares Championship off her largest win margin, a seven-length score in an allowance Oct. 22 at Zia. She earned a career-best Beyer of 97.

"That might have been her best race the other day," said Marr. "That's the easiest she's done it. She did it when Carlos asked her to go. She just took off down the lane."

Marr is hoping for a similar stalking trip Sunday.

"There's quite a bit of speed in the race, speed inside of us and outside," he said. "I would like to just sit off those leaders, two, three, four lengths off the lead, depending on how fast they go. Hopefully, we'll get to relax a while and run them down."

* Tanya's Beau will be seeking his fourth straight win when he starts in the $180,000 Classic, a one-mile race that also drew $500,000 earners Romeos Wilson and Ninety Nine Jack.

* Run Like Fire and Citi Girlfriend are top contenders in the races for 2-year-olds, each at six furlongs and worth $140,000.

* Catch the Bean and Silver Expression lead their respective 3-year-old races, each at six furlongs and worth $140,000.