06/10/2011 12:28PM

Emerald Downs: Cliff's Secret figures large in Washington State Legislators


AUBURN, Wash. – Cliff’s Secret is one of the fastest horses at Emerald Downs, an undefeated sprinter with a big-time pedigree, yet many observers, even those closest to the horse, are conflicted about her true ability.

When she starts Sunday in the $50,000 Washington State Legislators Handicap, Cliff’s Secret will attract keen interest from handicappers who pay close attention to Beyer Speed Figures. She stands out when judged solely on speed and its underlying numbers, having run the fastest 5 1/2 furlongs of the meeting, and also the fastest six furlongs. She was assigned Beyer Figures of 89 and 88 for those victories. None of her 10 opponents has run faster than 83 this year.

Big picture: If Cliff’s Secret adds the fastest 6 1/2 furlongs to her past performances Sunday, she will have captured the biggest race of her burgeoning career.

For Kay Cooper, who handles day-to-day operations for trainer Jim Penney and knows Cliff’s Secret inside and out, it has been a tricky proposition, trying to weight perceptions of class – Cliff’s Secret got hammered in her only previous stakes appearance – against a set of numbers that single her out as the fastest female runner on the grounds. In her six races to date, Cliff’s Secret has been offered for a claiming price four times. Just 13 months ago, she began her career in a $5,000 maiden claimer.

“We’re stepping her up a bunch in class,” Cooper said. “She’s got the fastest five-eighths and the fastest three-quarters at the meeting, so it’s a step she’s earned. We’re going to try her.”

“I think the filly is improving and staying together soundness-wise,” Cooper said. “Every time she’s run and come back to the barn, she’s proved to us that she’s gotten better. She’s a beautiful individual, and she tries hard. She’s taken a long time to mature and get it, but it’s been worth the wait.”

Purchased for $50,000 at Keeneland in September 2007, Cliff’s Secret began to test the patience of owners Mike and Amy Feuerborn almost immediately. In the end, they had to wait nearly three years before she stepped onto the track for an actual race. While a few eyebrows were raised when Cooper and the Feuerborns chose a bottom-level claimer for her debut, no one saw fit to claim her. Cliff’s Secret won easily, the first step in a gradual climb up the ladder. She won a pair of $17,500 claimers to run her record to 3-0, and then finished a distant last in the 1 1/16-mile Boeing Handicap in her final start last summer. It has been clear sailing so far in 2011. Now comes the acid test.

“Well, it should be an exciting race,” said Cooper, who will start previous stakes winners Sweet Nellie Brown and Sis’s Sis in addition to Cliff’s Secret. “All three of my horses are training extremely well, they really are. I expect a good individual race from each horse. They can all be right there, Cliff’s Secret included.”

Noosa Beach goes easy in work

Noosa Beach took a leisurely tour of the track Thursday morning as the undisputed king of Emerald Downs readies for a start in the one-mile Budweiser Handicap on June 19. He covered five furlongs in 1:04.

“He worked a really easy five-eighths,” trainer Doris Harwood said. “The track was real deep after they added fibers to it. It was what I’d call a maintenance workout. The horse came back happy. You have to let ’em stretch their legs a bit, and that’s what he did today.”

Harwood and her husband, Jeff, who owns Noosa Beach, continued to weigh the pros and cons of making him eligible for the Breeders’ Cup. They have until June 30 to pay a $25,000 nomination fee, the first step in a costly process that includes additional nomination and entry fees, plus travel expenses and sundry incidentals. Doris Harwood said Breeders’ Cup officials have reached out and would very much like to see Noosa Beach at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in November.

“We still haven’t made a decision on whether we’ll make that investment or not,” she said. “We’ll see how he does in the next race. There’s a possibility. It would be a thrill of a lifetime, but he still has to do a lot to get there. The question is, is he a good enough horse to do the Breeders’ Cup?”

Ivanho may crusade locally

Ivanho, a well-regarded 3-year-old who finished second as the 4-5 favorite in a maiden race at Golden Gate in his last start, could factor into the Emerald Downs stakes program later this summer, trainer Tim McCanna said Thursday. Ivanho, by Broken Vow, was purchased by owners Duane Hopp and Don Hopwood for $26,500 at the 2009 Washington summer yearling sale.

“He ran well down there,” McCanna said. “We’ll try to go long with him next time. The derby here in [August] is the goal, probably, depending on what happens down there. He’s a pretty nice little horse.”