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Zasha prevails in Peppers Pride thriller

Steve Bortstein
Special to The Daily Times

SUNLAND PARK — Ironically, the Peppers Pride Handicap came down to a two-horse between two fillies trained by Joel Marr.

Zasha, ridden by Jesiere Medina, gets up in the final stride to beat stablemate Desert Stepper (hidden) in Saturday's $85,000 Peppers Pride Handicap at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.

Marr, who trained Peppers Pride through her unbeaten campaign nearly a decade ago, saw Zasha and jockey Jesiere Medina come back to beat her stablemate, Desert Stepper, in the shadow of the finish line to win the featured event Saturday at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino.

Zasha came into the Peppers Pride with a three-race losing streak in tow, having been badly beaten in her most recent efforts. Saturday, returning to the course where she’d won three times in her career, Zasha was part of a good pace duel throughout and found something left in the tank in deep stretch.

A five-year-old by Desert God, Zasha battled up close throughout, dueling with Desert Stepper and Bird Lady through an opening half-mile timed in 46.42 seconds. After fending off challenges from B Bold Cindy and Little Vidalia through the far turn, Zasha was quickly overtaken at the head of the lane by her stablemate, who snuck down towards the rail for her rally.

Desert Stepper opened up a length lead passing the final furlong marker, but Medina kept after Zasha, who tagged the leader right on the wire. Zasha, who ran the one mile in 1:37.64, prevailed by a head at odds of 12.30-to-1.

The irony of Marr winning and finishing second in the Peppers Pride is even more impressive considering both the winner and runner-up are not only stablemates, but full sisters as well, both being out of the same mare Thanks For Smokin.

The Peppers Pride Handicap is the second stakes win in Zasha’s career. She won the New Mexico Breeders’ Oaks in 2014. Saturday’s win —  the fifth in her lifetime — pads her career bankroll to just over $250,000 for owner C. Donnell Echols.

Zasha returned $26.60 to her winning backers, while Desert Stepper finished more than two lengths in front of My Dandy Girl for second place. They were followed officially by Little Vidalia, Stormin Creek, Bird Lady, My Classy Lady, My Bikini Fell Off and B Bold Cindy.

My Bikini Fell Off, the original fourth-place finisher, was disqualified for interference going into the first turn and was placed eighth.

Racing resumes today at Sunland Park, with a strong, nine-race program that gets underway at 1:30 p.m.

Evans set for big day

Trainer Justin Evans, already the leading thoroughbred trainer at the current Sunland Park racing season, will be looking to add two more pieces of hardware today with top contenders in both the Budweiser Overnight Stakes and the co-featured Curribot Handicap.

Evans will be sending out Dirt Monster, the 8-to-5 morning line favorite under jockey Alfredo Juarez Jr., in the Budweiser. That race will go as the seventh race on the card and features a purse of $75,000.

Dirt Monster faces six rivals in the Budweiser and will be looking to win his second straight race. The four-year-old colt by Line Of David was an impressive three-length winner in the Nov. 25 Zia Park Sprint.

A five-time winner from 14 career starts, Dirt Monster has earned more than $240,000, but is winless in four starts at Sunland Park. He will break from post 5 in the sprint, which has a post time of 4:03 p.m..

Evans will also send out Redneck Humor in the Budweiser. Listed at 4-to-1 on the morning line, the son of Da Stoops is also looking for a second straight win, but was beaten nearly four  lengths by Dirt Monster when they last met in the Zia Sprint.

Rebranded will be looking to rebound after two consecutive losses when he goes postward in the $75,000 Curribot Handicap, the ninth and final race on today’s program.

Listed at 9-to-2 on the morning line, the third choice in the Curribot has a liking for the Sunland oval, with three wins from six starts. The five-year-old son of Tiznow has won seven times from 23 career starts and has amassed earnings over $332,000.

Rebranded won the Curribot last year in wire-to-wire fashion, and he figures to be on or near the lead again today under Juarez. They will break from post 2 in the Curribot, which has a scheduled post time of 4:55 p.m.

Also on today’s program, state-bred shortliners will race 400 yards in the New Mexico Horsemen and Breeders Association Stakes, which goes as the fourth race.

A field of 10 — headlined by 3-to-1 morning line favorite Sic Em Sixes —  will race in the NMHBA Stakes, with a post time of 2:45 p.m.

Steve Bortstein hosts "First Sports" and "The Fast Track" on Fox Sports 1340 AM and 93.9 FM and on iHeartRadio. He serves as paddock show host at SunRay Park & Casino and is a voting member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Follow him @fox1340am on Twitter.