Michael J. Caruso and Michael Dubb’s Hot Peppers, who made her first start in more than a year when second in the Grade 3 Las Flores at Santa Anita on New Year’s Day, has her second race of 2024 scheduled for Saturday at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 Santa Monica. The 5-year-old mare is the co-second choice at 5-2 on the morning line and is among six fillies and mares who will go seven furlongs in the $250,000 affair.

Trainer Phil D’Amato is hoping the strong race in the Las Flores, when beaten a length-and-a-quarter by Santa Monica rival Chismosa, has set a foundation for improvement for the graded stakes-winning Florida-bred.

Hot Peppers had a stellar campaign in 2022 when she won the Grade 3 Victory Ride going six-and-a-half furlongs and the $145,000 Jersey Girl racing six furlongs, both at Belmont Park. Her strongest race of the year, however, may have come when second to Chi Town Lady in the Grade 1 Test going seven furlongs over an off-track at Saratoga.

Bred in Florida by Brent and Crystal Fernung, the daughter of Journeyman Stud’s leading Florida sire Khozan out of Friends Pro, by Friends Lake has won half of her 10 career starts with three seconds while banking $412,950.

The Fernungs sold Hot Peppers to de Meric Sales as a yearling for $40,000 out of their Journeyman Bloodstock Services consignment at the 2020 Ocala Breeders’ Sales October Yearling Sale. She again passed through the auction ring the following year when de Meric Sales consigned her to the 2010 OBS June Sale where she was purchased for $16,000 by trainer Ronald Spatz.

Hot Peppers has drawn post six and will be ridden by Juan Hernandez.

The expected favorite at 9-5 in the program is Three Witches, who makes her first start since finishing third behind winner Goodnight Olive in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint going seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Nov. 4.

The Santa Monica will mark the first start under conditioner Michael McCarthy for Three Witches, who won the Grade 3 Princess Rooney at Gulfstream Park on Oct. 7 just prior to the Breeders’ Cup. In her only other start last year, the Yuesheng Zhang-owned mare won a first level, $25,000 optional claiming by nearly five lengths at Gulfstream on Aug. 27.

By Into Mischief out of Layreebelle, by Tale of the Cat, Three Witches has won three of eight career starts with two seconds and two thirds and earnings of $297,970.

Flavien Prat will ride Three Witches for the first time and they have post three.

Chismosa is 6-1 on the morning line after finishing fourth, just a half-length behind winner Rose Maddox in the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf Sprint presented by John Deere going six-and-a-half furlongs at Santa Anita on Jan. 13. Rose Maddox is also entered for the Santa Monica.

Trained by Rafael DeLeon for owner Jaime Renella, Chismosa will have Tiago Pereira aboard when she departs post five.

Also at 5-2 on the morning line is Kirstenbosch, who makes her first start since finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.

Trained by John Sadler for Keith Abrahams, the 5-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute won the Grade 3 Chillingsworth at Santa Anita in September.

Kirstenbosch has post two and Hector Berrios takes the mount.

Rounding out the field for the Santa Monica are Cliquish with jockey Kazushi Kimura and Rose Maddox carries Umberto Rispoli.

Return to the Feb. 2 issue of Wire to Wire