Luke Pepper eyes Queensland expedition as Opal Ridge continues to ‘raise the bar’

Dylan Gibbons cruised to victory on the Luke Pepper-trained Opal Ridge in Saturday’s Listed Luskin Star Stakes at Scone. Photo: Scone Race Club.

Opal Ridge has quickly become a story that dreams are made of. 

Trained in Scone by Luke Pepper, the three-year-old Rubick filly out of Chadana was a $20,000 Inglis Classic purchase from the Carramar Park draft.

On Saturday, she advanced her record to six wins and two seconds from 11 starts with earnings of $648,150 when taking out the Listed Luskin Star Stakes (1300m) at Scone. 

It wasn’t just the victory that had people talking after the race, but just how the three-year-old filly – under the guidance of apprentice Dylan Gibbons – dominated a field of much older and more experienced gallopers.

From a position worse than midfield, Opal Ridge showcased an extraordinary finishing burst to put 1.59 lengths on the James Cummings-trained Gravina (Rachel King, $12), while in third and 2.08 lengths back was the Joseph Pride-trained Titanium Power (Sam Clipperton, $6). 

“She just keeps raising the bar every time I send her around,” Pepper told NSW Country and Picnic Racing. 

“I threw her in the deep end on Saturday, and she had to race the older horses, and it’s always tough for any three-year-old to take on those hard-head sprinters, but she just keeps getting the job done.” 

Opal Ridge has been in the spotlight since bursting onto the scene with a dominant maiden win at Canberra in early 2022. 

The highly-touted filly has lived up to some lofty expectations, winning a Highway Handicap last year before her victory in the $500,000 Tapp-Craig (1400m). 

Since returning from a spell earlier this year, she’s won the Listed Darby Munro Stakes (1200m) at Rosehill Gardens, and she wasn’t too far away in Group 3 races at Randwick last month before winning a second listed race at Scone. 

“We’re just in awe of her, and it’s just incredible what ride she has taken me and her owners on,” Pepper said.

“She’s now won the two black types and a Group 3; she’s just unbelievable, and the sky’s the limit.”

Pepper will take Opal Ridge to Queensland next month, racing her at Eagle Farm in the Group 1 Stradbroke Handicap (1400m) on June 10 and Group 1 Tattersall’s Tiara (1400m) at Eagle Farm on June 24.

“She will head to Brisbane now,” Pepper confirmed. 

“It’s exciting, but I’ve still got to do my job right and place her right, but after that win on Saturday, she deserves her chance to race in a Group 1.”

“The Stradbroke is a good start, and the Tatt’s Tiara will be her Grand Final.”

Pepper will travel with Opal Ridge to Queensland, and the experience will be nothing new to him.

Before turning to his talents to training thoroughbreds, Pepper was a picnic hoop before he played a significant role in the career of champion Australian galloper Takeover Target, travelling with him all over the country and overseas before returning to Australia to take up training. 

“I’ll be taking her up. We will get up there 10 to 12 days before the Stradbroke, and I ride most of her work anyhow, so that won’t be much different,” Pepper said. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to travel some good horses over the years, and she does everything right.

“She’s had a little bit of experience travelling to Melbourne even though she didn’t race, and we’ll get her up there and give her a couple of gallops and give her the best possible chance.”

While the Stradbroke and Tattersall’s Tiara are connection’s primary focus, it will be hard to block out the whispers that Opal Ridge is a chance to be picked to race in the $15 million Everest at Royal Randwick on October 14. 

“It’s incredible; last year, we were looking at the Kosciuszko, and now we are looking at the Everest,” Pepper said. 

“It’s quite amazing and was never in my wildest dreams, but she has definitely put herself into calculations, and hopefully, she continues that good form in Queensland.”

Author’s hoof-note

Opal Ridge is a good reminder that gems can be discovered anywhere in racing. 

As touched on above, Opal Ridge costs just $20,000. 

Bred by Wayne and Pauline Alchin, Opal Ridge is the first foal from winning Myboycharlie (IRE) mare Chadana, a half-sister to Group III ATC Adrian Knox Stakes winner Candelara (Real Saga), who was third in the Group I ATC Australian Oaks.

Chadana was on-sold by Carramar Park for $12,000 through Inglis Digital in 2021 to Queensland-based Fig Tree Farm.

Luke Pepper shelled out $80,000 for Chadana’s Headwter colt consigned by Fig Tree Farm to the Magic Millions Yearling sale in January, and connections will be hoping for similar luck with the youngster.