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Pepper bit cold on Stradbroke start with Opal Ridge

Wed 5 June 2024

By Glenn Davis

Scone trainer Luke Pepper travelled the world as the track rider for former champion Takeover Target and he is now hoping to make his own headlines with his star sprinter Opal Ridge.

Opal Ridge is a borderline chance of making the Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm on June 15 and will need to win the Group 2 Moreton Cup at Eagle Farm on Saturday to qualify.

The Moreton Cup winner is guaranteed a start in the $3 million Stradbroke but a ballot free entry may not be enough to sway Pepper into running the four-year-old mare in Queensland’s premier sprint.

Instead, Pepper is looking for redemption and has the option of another crack at the Group 1 Tatt’s Tiara at Eagle Farm on June 29.

“It wasn’t in our original plans to go for the Stradbroke, but the race has fallen away a bit,” Pepper said.

“We’ve accepted for the Moreton Cup and we’ll make up our minds later whether she runs.

“If she were to win the Moreton Cup, she’ll qualify for the Stradbroke but it’s a big step up from 1200 metres to 1400 metres in a week.

“There’s plenty of options we’ve got before the Tatt’s Tiara.”

Opal Ridge is following a similar path which saw the daughter of Rubick finish fifth, beaten just over one length, by the Chris Munce-trained Palaisipan in last year’s Tatt’s Tiara.

Last year, Opal Ridge had her final warm-up for the winter carnival at Scone when she claimed the Listed Luskin Star Stakes while this year, she comes off a brilliant win in the Listed Ortensia Stakes at Scone on May 18.

“Her win in the Ortensia was fantastic as it came off a decent break,” Pepper said.

“She was very strong through the line and she had a great deal of improvement left in her.”

Opal Ridge arrived in Brisbane last week and has settled in well to her new Brisbane surroundings.

“She went up to Brisbane last Friday and has settled in well at Matt Hoysted’s stables at Eagle Farm,” Pepper said.

“The experience of coming up here last year helped her settle in a lot better this time.”

The 43-year-old Pepper gained his trainers license 15 years ago and is still chasing his maiden win at the highest level.

“I’ve had a couple of goes but have never won one yet,” he said.

“Opal Ridge is our pin-up and she’s been the best result for me so far winning two Listed races and finishing second in the Group 2 Dane Ripper last year.”

Pepper enjoys training but rates being the track rider for Takeover Target as the best job in the world.

“I was riding work one day at Flemington for Barbara Joseph when Takeover Target’s trainer Joe Janiak asked me to ride him work,” Pepper said.

“Since that day I became good friends with Joe and I travelled the world riding track work on Takeover Target.

”He took me to Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore but I couldn’t make the trip to England to ride him.”

Takeover Target was plagued with leg problems most of his career but still won 21 races including eight at Group 1 level and more than $6.3 million in prize money during his career which spanned six seasons.