05/11/2011 5:20PM

Belvoir gearing up for another strong meet

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AUBURN, Wash. – After a whirlwind winter, Vann Belvoir has settled into his old routine at Emerald Downs. The 37-year-old trainer has more than 40 horses in his barn, with many more going through their paces at nearby West Coast Training Center, and he has been winning at a familiar 20 percent clip.

Since the start of the 2009 meeting, Belvoir has saddled 117 winners at Emerald. Only perennial training champion Tim McCanna, with 133, has saddled more. On Sunday, when the track powers up its 2011 stakes program, Belvoir will start No Flies On Doodle in the $50,000 Hastings Handicap for fillies and mares. He’s preparing stable star Peaceful Reign to compete in the Governor’s Handicap on May 22, and he’ll be strongly represented when the 2-year-olds begin racing in the next few weeks.

At some point in his life, Belvoir was stricken with a persistent case of wanderlust. So while Emerald is home, he still has horses in Northern California and is always willing to explore greener pastures.

A standout jockey before growing out of the profession, Belvoir was a 16-year-old apprentice when he rode 117 winners at Longacres in 1990. He immediately set out for California and over the next six years rode horses up and down the West Coast. When he became a trainer in 1996, and after winning the title at Emerald’s one and only winter meet in 1996-97, he again hit the road, this time heading east.

Belvoir made stops, some brief, some extended, in Arizona, Idaho, Oklahoma, Indiana, Ohio, and Texas. He spent time in Kentucky, and not just for a taste – he tried the whole menu, sending out starters at Ellis Park, Kentucky Downs, Turfway Park, Churchill Downs, and Keeneland.

“It gets boring looking at the same horses over and over again,” he said in 2008, after he and his wife, Sauci, moved back to the Northwest from their short-lived stay on a Texas farm. “Maybe that’s why we’ve moved so much.”

Late last summer, Belvoir took part of his stable to Remington Park in Oklahoma. His hope was to establish a toehold on a more lucrative circuit. But after the speedy filly My Untamed Heart won a $15,000 claiming race Nov. 20, he lost with his final 17 starters at Remington. Overall, he was 4 for 55 there. In keeping with his peripatetic ways, he also started horses in Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. He said the experience was a good one.

“I liked it a lot,” he said. “You learn a lot, and the horsemen are really good. But the fields are big and it’s hard to win races. You better be prepared to run against 12 or 14 every race.”

No Flies On Doodle, a four-time stakes winner at Emerald, started four times at Remington. In her best effort, she finished a close third in an optional claimer after setting the pace going five furlongs on the turf. Belvoir turned her out for the winter, and she returned May 1 to run second behind Dream Sweeper in an allowance race, a necessary tune-up for her scheduled start in the Hastings.

“I thought she ran okay,” Belvoir said. “She worked good the other day, and we’ll see if she can compete in the stake this weekend. I think it was a good race to get back into the action. She wasn’t quite as fit as I wanted her to be, but if you’re going in the stake, you need a prep, and that was the one.”

Belvoir said My Untamed Heart, after a narrow loss in her first start of the year, would skip the six-furlong Hastings and be pointed to the 6 1/2-furlong Washington State Legislators Stakes on June 12.

“I think she’s stakes quality, but we’re sitting on the biggest bounce on the country right here,” Belvoir said of My Untamed Heart, who got caught up in a withering speed duel with Cliff’s Secret before yielding in the final strides. “She needs more time between races. We’ll probably go in the 6 1/2 after she’s had time to recover.”

Couldabenthewhisky points to Auburn

Trainer Bonnie Jenne said Couldabenthewhisky, Emerald’s champion 2-year-old last summer, came out of his 2011 debut in good order and would run next in the $50,000 Auburn Handicap on Memorial Day.

Couldabenthewhisky splashed to victory last Saturday in the Jim Coleman Province Stakes at Hastings in Vancouver, British Columbia, running 6 1/2 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:17.16 to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Gallyn Mitchell, Emerald’s all-time wins leader, was along for the ride.

“He ran awfully good in Canada,” Jenne said. “That was an absolutely fantastic race. It wasn’t an easy group, either. There were stakes winners in there from other parts of the country. I was worried about how he would ship, but he shipped better than I did.”

Noosa Beach preparing for Governor’s

After setting an Emerald season record with five stakes victories in 2010, Noosa Beach scored a dominant victory in the $50,000 George Royal Stakes at Hastings on April 22. He worked five furlongs in 1:00.20 at Emerald on Sunday morning as he readies for Governor’s Handicap on May 22.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better work,” trainer Doris Harwood said. “That was as slow as he can go. He worked great and came back good.”

Harwood said Noosa Beach continued to grow into his body during his winter vacation, putting on 40 to 50 pounds of muscle.

“He is way bigger this year, he’s filled out nice, he’s all dappled up,” Harwood said. “I don’t know who’s going to want to run against him, but I hope a few brave souls show up. And I know they will. It’s a big purse, and this is horse racing. Anything can happen.”