ELMONT, N.Y. – Michael Dubb and Michael Caruso’s Hot Peppers captured her first stakes victory for trainer Rudy Rodriguez in Sunday’s $150,000 Jersey Girl for sophomore fillies sprinting six furlongs at Belmont Park.
A bay daughter of Khozan, Hot Peppers entered the Jersey Girl from a seventh-place finish in the Sophomore Fillies at Tampa Bay Downs for former trainer Ronald Spatz where she tracked in second before fading to finish 19 3/4 lengths behind Midnight Stroll.
The Jersey Girl was her first win since a trio of front-running victories in Florida this winter that included her maiden-breaking score at second asking and two allowance wins.
Sent from post 4 as the post-time favorite with Luis Saez in the irons, Hot Peppers was hustled from the gate by Saez to take command and lead the compact field of five through an opening quarter-mile in 22.36 seconds over the good main track. Stakes winner Stand Up Comic, with Frankie Pennington up, moved into second to the outside of the Kendrick Carmouche-piloted Sweet Solare as Hot Peppers continued to lead through a half-mile in 45.76.
Saez had plenty of horse beneath him as the field exited the turn and was able to easily fend off one last try from Stand Up Comic down the lane, rousing Hot Peppers for more and pulling away at the eighth-pole to a 6 3/4-length victory in a final time of 1:10.24. Sweet Solare finished another 1 3/4 lengths back to secure show honors with Gimmick and Diamond Collector completing the order of finish.
Saez rode Hot Peppers for the first time and said her natural speed is impressive.
“She’s a real runner. She broke from there so fast and relaxed and kept running,” Saez said. “She’s the kind of filly that when she feels somebody’s coming, she’ll take off again. Those were quick fractions. I know we were rolling, but she was so comfortable it felt like nothing. So, I just let her be.”
Hot Peppers made her first start for Rodriguez, who said Saez planned to show early speed after finishing behind Hot Peppers with other mounts on two occasions this winter.
“The race had a lot of speed,” said Rodriguez. “Luis is the type of jockey, you don’t have to tell him much. He said, ‘I’m going. This horse beat me twice at Gulfstream already, so I cannot take the speed away from her.’ She broke very good and intimidated Kendrick a little bit and was all by herself. That was the key.”
Co-owner Michael Dubb said he purchased Hot Peppers privately with Rodriguez in mind after being impressed with the trainer’s work with Bella Sofia, a $20,000 purchase at the 2020 OBS Sale, who won the Grade 1 Test last summer at Saratoga Race Course and subsequently two more graded wins this year, including Friday’s Grade 2 Bed o’ Roses.
“The reason I wanted this horse for Rudy is Bella Sofia. This was a $16,000 yearling that showed it was worth a lot more than that. We bought her privately,” said Dubb. “I saw the job Rudy did with Bella Sofia. He’s on these horses and gets to know them and here we are. Let’s hope it’s onward and upward.”
Dubb said Hot Peppers could target the Grade 1, $500,000 Longines Test on August 6 at Saratoga Race Course and use the Grade 3, $150,000 Victory Ride on July 9 at Belmont as a stepping stone.
“That [the Test] would be the ultimate goal. A lofty goal, but we’ll give it our best shot,” said Dubb. “We’d probably look at the Victory Ride. I’ll leave it to Rudy and see how he wants to space the races.”
Pennington said he was pleased with the effort from Stand Up Comic, who made her first start since winning the Parx Futurity on December 29.
“She had a good trip. She hadn’t run in a while but she tried a very game effort and ran good,” Pennington said. “That horse went to the lead and just kept on going. No one was going to beat her today.”
Hot Peppers was bred in Florida by Brent and Crystal Fernung and banked $82,500 in victory, boosting her total purse earnings to $195,450 and improving her record to 6-4-1-0. She returned $3.50 for a $2 win wager.
Live racing resumes Thursday at Belmont with a nine-race card. First post is 1 p.m. Eastern.
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By Mary Eddy
Photo by Susie Raisher