Long trip ends in disappointment

ROOKIE trainer Luke Pepper has had a roller-coaster ride of emotions after travelling more than 14 hours from Moruya with his horse Cheersforhollywood for a crack at the $11,000 Ballina Bracelet and a $50,000 Brisbane Bloodstock Bonus.

But it’s all ended in disappointment.

Pepper headed to the Northern Rivers full of expectation but the Bracelet meeting last Friday was washed out after the first two races.

Hope emerged when the Bracelet was rescheduled for the Tweed River Jockey Club meeting at Murwillumbah today, but that too has been dashed by the rain this week.

The meeting was abandoned yesterday due to the state of the track.

Pepper, 29, has had a trainer’s licence for only 12 months – but he has seen and done plenty in his time.

In a previous job, Pepper was trackwork rider of globetrotting superstar Takeover Target.

Having spent more time than anyone on the back of Australia’s greatest sprinter, he knows a thing or two about a good horse.

His two-year-old Cheersforhollywood is no superstar but Pepper believes he would have given the 1200m Bracelet a good shake.

Stationed at Steven O’Dea’s Brisbane stable, Pepper has his galloper in tip-top condition.

“Hollywood is fit, well, sound and ready to rock,” Pepper said.

“His work has been fantastic. It was hard to line up the form as horses come from everywhere for this race but my boy would have given it a good shake with half a chance.”

Horses did indeed come from everywhere for the Bracelet – but none travelled anywhere near the 14 hours Pepper and his galloper did from the NSW South Coast.

They had travelled with good reason – and intent.

On top of the $11,000 race kitty,a Brisbane Bloodstock bonus of $50,000 would have been up for grabs for eligible horses.

“That’s what we were here for,” Pepper said.

“He went good enough first up to suggest he could win a race like this.”

A victory for Cheersforhollywood would have set Pepper on his way as a trainer – but it is still a long way to the dizzying heights that he reached with Joe Janiak and Takeover Target.

Pepper travelled to Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and England to prepare Takeover Target for the world’s best and also rode the trackwork in the lead-up to his first major victory in the 2004 Group One Salinger Stakes at Flemington.

“What an outstanding horse,” he said.

“I’ll never forget it.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to throw a leg over him – I’ve been very lucky.”

But Pepper’s head has never been stuck in the clouds.

Between global missions with the Takeover Target team he did the hard yards with Barbara Joseph and Nick Olive in Canberra.

“You could be in Japan winning a Group One and three days later be taking a team of Oliver’s horses to Queanbeyan and watching them get rolled,” Pepper said.

“That brings you back to earth pretty quick.”

A walk of the Murwillumbah track by Northern Rivers Racing Association chief steward Craig Pringle mid-afternoon yesterday revealed a surface the worse for wear after several days’ rain.

TRJC secretary-manager Steve Huggins, who also walked the track, said that they got about half way through when it became evident the track was heavily water affected.

“The state of the track is unsafe for racing, and weather forecasts give no indication of marked improvement in the short term,” Huggins said.

“It’s a shame we won’t be able to host the Bracelet as we’d liked.”

The course recorded 25mm of rain on Tuesday night and another 15mm yesterday.

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