Scone move has Luke Pepper in hot form

Luke Pepper. Bradley Photos.

At only 41 years of age, Luke Pepper has already enjoyed a storied career in the thoroughbred racing industry. 

Once a talented picnic hoop, who rode 40-plus winners in NSW, Pepper also rode most of Takeover Target’s work for trainer Joe Janiak, having played a significant role in the champion Australian galloper’s campaign to win races in the UK, Singapore, and Japan.

Increasing weight forced Pepper to abandon his quest to become a professional jockey but he retained his love of horses, working at Meringo Stud until a meeting with Canberra trainer Barbara Joseph.

Having forged a good reputation, working with the likes of Joseph and Nick Olive, Pepper went out on his own, and he has simply never looked back. 

“I went to Canberra as a 16-year-old and went through all the track work phase, and worked for a few trainers,” Pepper said. 

“I was with Barbara Joseph to start with, then I was Nick Olive’s Forman, then got the gig to ride Takeover Target and went overseas with him, and when I got back, that’s when I started training in Canberra.

“After a while I moved back to Moruya, which is my hometown, and things started getting a bit more serious with training, so I moved back to Canberra and was there for the last six years.” 

After his stint in Canberra, Pepper and his partner Tahnee Mills moved north, with the duo setting up shop in Scone. 

“Basically, it wasn’t financially viable in Canberra anymore,” Pepper said.

Luke Pepper on champion galloper Takeover Target.

“The workers compensation there is incredibly expensive, and we couldn’t afford to train there anymore.

“I had to get back into NSW, and me and my partner Tahnee; we did a lot of homework on all the tracks in NSW, and Scone stood out.

“It didn’t happen overnight, and it took us about 12 months to get to Scone, but once we got stables, we made the move, and we haven’t looked back.”

There has been no stopping Pepper and his team after their move, with his stable winning races at Newcastle, Wean, Scone and Inverell last month before kicking off the 2022/23 season with wins at Quirindi and Parkes. 

“It has been a dream start. It has gone way better than I thought it would,” Pepper said. 

“We planned to come up here with a couple of nice horses to help get us going, and we were lucky enough to have some other horses race well.

“The horses have enjoyed the move, and they all seem to be racing really well.”

While based in Scone, Pepper hasn’t been afraid to race at picnic, country, provincial, and metropolitan meetings, and he explained that pride wouldn’t get in the way of him winning races for his owners.  

“I train a lot of mares, and some quite well-bred mares at that, and I need to get a job done, and when it comes to the breeding barn, these mares look a lot better with a win next to their name,” Pepper said. 

“We place them where they can win, and we place them at their best, whether that is Wean picnics or Randwick on a Saturday.” 

While enjoying his hot start in Scone, Pepper reiterated that he doesn’t want to get too big, too fast, and he said his small but hard-working team had a focus on quality over quantity. 

“I have got 17 on course and we are chock-a-block, both with horses in training and some in pretraining ready to replace empty boxes,” Pepper said. 

“You always need those better horses, so you are racing in those better races, and that is what we are working towards.

“I never want to have a massive stable, but I want a quality stable that is consistently competitive in town.

Kayla Nisbet drives the Luke Pepper-trained Opal Ridge to victory at Canberra.Photo: Bradley Photos.

“We will aim to build that up and get there, but right now, it is nice to have a couple of city class type of horses that are racing well.”

Pepper will be on show in town on Saturday, with outstanding filly Opal Ridge contesting the Group 2 Darley Silver Shadow Stakes over 1200m, and he said it helped having a Group class prospect leading his team’s charge. 

“Opal Ridge would be my best horse; she is something special, and it really is nice to have that quality horse in your stable,” Pepper said.

While in action at Royal Randwick on Saturday, Pepper is back racing at Scone on Tuesday, with both Leisa Louise and Deepstar nominated to race.