SUNLAND PARK — The longer the distance, the better the result it seems for Western Way.
Stretched back out to a mile, which was the distance of her most recent winning effort last year, Western Way and jockey Enrique Gomez roared past runner-up Piratz Stash on her way to a convincing win in Saturday's $85,000 Peppers Pride Handicap at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.
Trained by Juan A. Gonzalez for owner Juan Carlos Gutierrez, Western Way rallied wide around the far turn, racing into a tepid early pace, dueled for the lead briefly at the head of the lane before opening up in the final 100 yards on her way to a two and one-fourth-length win as the 3.40-1 second choice in the wagering.
A 5-year-old mare by The Way Home, Western Way came up short in her most recent start, a six-furlong optional claiming sprint at Sunland earlier this month. Prior to that, she was a well-beaten fifth in a sprint stakes race here last December.
In her prior route races, Western Way had done well, including a strong second place finish in the New Mexico Cup Filly and Mare Stakes last October at Zia Park.
She showed her affinity for longer distance races on Saturday, running the mile in a moderate time of 1:38.3 , drawing away from Piratz Stash, who wound up being sent off as the post-time favorite at odds of 2.5-1.
"She started going really well on the turn," said Gutierrez after the race. "From that point, she ran really great."
The connections of Western Way earned $51,000 for the win, increasing her career earnings to over $219,000. Bettors who successfully tabbed Western Way were rewarded with a return of $8.80 for their $2 investment.
The runner-up, who was trying a mile for the first time in her career, showed the way on the lead to the top of the lane before being hooked by the eventual winner. Piratz Stash held onto the place by a diminishing half-length at the wire.
Longshot Don't Ask Ghost managed to grab third place, just narrowly ahead of Gossip Dome. Following that one across the wire were Park Lane Lass, Silver Streakn Gal, Desert Avenue, Soaring Dea, Grand Flame and St Clair.
Shuefly rematch in NMHBA 'Cap
The top two finishers from last month's Grade 2 Shuefly Stakes will take a majority of the attention in today's $85,000 New Mexico Horsemens & Breeders Association Quarter Horse Stakes, the featured event at Sunland Park, where first post is at 12:15 p.m.
Woodys Allstar and Kia Won, separated by only a neck at the wire in the Shuefly over this course on Jan. 4, are the top two choices on the morning line in the 400-yard dash, which will go as the fifth race of a strong 11-race card.
Trained by Michael Joiner and slated to be ridden by L. Salvador Martinez, Woodys Allstar has recorded three wins from four career starts, all of them over this course including a gutsy score over Kia Won in the Shuefly. Listed on the morning line as the 5-2 favorite, the daughter of Woodbridge will break from post No. 3 while attempting to win her third straight race.
Kia Won, drawn just to the inside of the favorite, is also a three-time winner, including a winner last April over this course in the Grade 3 Spring Fling Futurity. Trained by Gene Burden and scheduled to be ridden for the first time by Sergio Becerra, Jr., the gelded son of Ketel Won has never missed the board in four starts over the course and can turn the tables on her rival with a win today.
Post time for the NMHBA QH Stakes is set for 1:55 p.m. The field, from the rail out, with riders and post positions, looks like this: Gonna Make You Royal, Oscar Ortega, 6-1; Kia Won, Becerra, 7-2; Woodys Allstar, Martinez, 5-2; Queen But A King, Tanner Thedford, 20-1; Royal Guardians, Adrian Ramos, 12-1; Mister Blazin First, Cody Jensen, 10-1; Rasberry Cola, Felipe Garcia-Luna, 10-1; Kaydns Krusader, Esgar Ramirez, 5-1; Too Flash For You, Larry Gamez, 8-1; Booyah Bay, Jaime Leos, 10-1.