07/26/2013 4:00PM

Emerald Downs: Harbor the Gold influence felt in Express

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AUBURN, Wash. – Many of the Northwest’s leading breeders will be represented by starters Sunday in the $50,000 Emerald Express at Emerald Downs, none more prominently that Bar C Racing Stables of Hermiston, Ore. Bar C, the home of influential Northwest stallion Harbor the Gold, bred three of the 11 runners in the Express field, including likely co-favorites Stikine Slough and Kenai King.

All three are by Harbor the Gold, a son of Seeking the Gold whose profile has been on the rise ever since the very first runner he sired, Noosa Beach, went on to win 11 stakes races at Emerald Downs before injuries forced him into retirement earlier this year.

Stikine Slough was purchased by Jody Peetz for $40,000 at the 2012 Washington summer yearling sale, and Pam Christopherson, who owns and runs Bar C with her husband, Neal, said Stikine Slough has always looked the part of a first-class runner.

“He’s a pretty nice looking colt,” Christopherson said. “The mare, Bluledo, had a stakes-placed winner in California, Blendara, and she won 120-some thousand. They have been solid runners and, like I say, he’s a striking colt. A pretty boy.”

Stikine Slough rallied from five lengths off the pace in his debut to miss by three-quarters of a length going 4 1/2 furlongs and could move forward sharply in his second start. He’ll be ridden by Juan Gutierrez for trainer Chris Stenslie, and his breeding suggests speed.

“It’s been a good cross with a Slewdledo mare, producing Hollywood Harbor and some others who have nicked well,” Christopherson said. “Jody owns Hollywood Harbor, and I think she wanted to go back to the same line.”

The Christophersons retained ownership in their other two Express starters. Kenai King, from the Giant’s Causeway mare Kirkela, overcame trouble in his debut to win going away for trainer Doris Harwood. De Rio Harbor was outrun in his first start but turned things around quickly in start No. 2 after Harwood added blinkers, leading gate to wire to down a promising field.

The Christophersons recently purchased Kenai King’s dam at Keeneland and kept Kenai King as they attempt to spread the word about one of their newest broodmares.

“It’s a pretty nice pedigree on her, so we bought her and thought we should keep this foal and try to get the mare established,” Christopherson said. “But Kenai King is a nice, big colt, and talented. He looks like he’s got some potential.”

Del Rio Harbor, from the Horse Chestnut mare Bahati, is a full brother to Emerald Downs stakes winner Couldabenthewhisky, and Bar C will have another full brother in the 2013 Washington summer yearling sale, along with a full brother to Stikine Slough. Meanwhile, Harbor the Gold is enjoying some down time in Hermiston after a busy breeding season during which he covered about 50 mares, Christopherson said.

“They have been bringing some better mares to him,” she said. “We keep a few – we like to keep two or three around to run – but our main thing is, we want to sell. He’s been getting some outstanding mares, so life is good.”

First win for apprentice Hardison

After a few fits and starts to her riding career, apprentice Maggie Hardison landed in the winner’s circle for the first time when she guided Come on Cozzene to a front-running victory July 20 in a $5,000 maiden claimer at one mile. Come on Cozzene is owned by longtime Northwest horseman Elwin Gibson and trained by Arturo Arboleda.

“I won my 31st ride, and it was cool because the horse wasn’t happy and then I started getting on her, and it was a team effort, everyone involved with her,” Hardison said. “I was not expecting her to be as brave as she was. She took control of the situation, and I was thinking, ‘We’re going fast,’ but she slowed down for me and made her own decisions after that and she held on to the end.”

Come on Cozzene prevailed by only a head, yet Hardison was convinced she had won the race. Shortly after the wire, she pumped her fist like the veterans do.

“It was a little embarrassing,” she said, “but I was excited. I looked like I had won the Kentucky Derby or something. But it felt like it. Eventually that will fade, but it’s pretty amazing, that feeling, that rush that you’ve made it – I’m a real jockey now. It was cool.”

At 29, Hardison, a native of Nashville, Tenn., is a little long in the tooth for an apprentice, though she has been getting on horses since she was 6 years old and had extensive experience in equestrian pursuits before transitioning into racing after attending Vanderbilt University. Before coming north to Emerald Downs, she worked as an exercise rider for some leading trainers in Southern California.

She said: “Henry Moreno started me out, John Sadler gave me my first salaried position, and then John Shirreffs, Peter Miller. … I was the gallop rider for Comma to the Top, a millionaire. He taught me everything.”

Well, not everything. Hardison has had to learn some hard lessons on the track at Emerald Downs.

“You know, it was way more difficult than I thought, coming from galloping in Southern California,” she said. “I felt really ready, and then you get in the races, and it’s something you can’t know about until you experience it. My worst ride ever was on Doris Harwood’s horse Two O’Clock Draw. I didn’t know the horses were going to come over at the three-eighths pole, and they came down, I checked my horse and I almost clipped heels. It made me realize the danger, but at the same time it gave me a newfound respect. I’m always aware of where people are. … There are so many things you learn along the way.”