08/19/2011 3:28PM

Emerald Downs: Harwoods took a bit of luck and ran with it


AUBURN, Wash. – Doris and Jeff Harwood love Australia, its people, and particularly its beaches. Noosa Beach was one of their favorites, mate, so they affixed the name to one of their foals, and off to the races he went.

Five years later, Noosa Beach is the Ian Thorpe of Northwest racing – no one can beat him going one lap – and a rising star on the national scene. He’s the morning-line favorite in Sunday’s Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile at Emerald Downs, where a strong effort could catapult him into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs this fall.

Doris Harwood trains Noosa Beach. Jeff Harwood owns him. Together, the bred him, and together the couple has mapped out a training and racing schedule that has yielded seven consecutive stakes victories over the past 13 months. Twenty starts into his career, Noosa Beach has won a record 11 stakes races at Emerald Downs. If he stays sound, who knows how many he might win?

The Harwoods, both 58, fell into Noosa Beach in a roundabout way. They owned the dam, Julia Rose, and were quite fond of her offspring, including a talented miler named War Alert. Jeff Harwood set out to make another one, sending Julia Rose back to War Alert’s sire, Tiffany Ice, a rather obscure stallion standing at Pam and Neal Christopherson’s Bar C Racing Stables in Hermiston, Ore.

And here’s where the Harwoods got lucky: Tiffany Ice was in his mid-20s, had grown weary of the breeding process, and wanted nothing to do with Julia Rose. But Bar C had a new stallion, just arrived from back East. A full brother to champion 2-year-old Boston Harbor, he was a cull from D. Wayne Lukas’s barn named Harbor the Gold. Would the Harwoods be interested in swapping out the old stud for the new one?

“I got a call from Pam, and she said, ‘The mare is ready to breed, but Tiffany Ice isn’t doing too well today’” Jeff Harwood recalled. “She told me a little about Harbor the Gold, I got on the computer, did some hypothetical stuff, and saw that if we bred to Harbor the Gold, we’d get another cross to Tom Fool. That’s the kind of horse, if you can bring his attributes forward, who can be successful at Emerald, he can win at any distance and be very sound. I think Harbor the Gold had been there for just a couple of weeks, and Julia Rose was the first mare to be bred to him.”

The Harwoods made a deal with the Christophersons: They could keep Julia Rose if they cared for Noosa Beach until he was ready to get started on a racing career. Months later, Noosa Beach arrived at the Harwood’s farm a few miles up the hill from Emerald Downs, where preparations began in earnest.

“When he went through his breaking lessons, he was quite the handful,” Jeff Harwood said. “He liked to buck. He wasn’t a mean colt, but he planted a lot of exercise riders in the ground. You had to negotiate with him. That’s how he got his nickname, Elvis, because he had a lot of moves.

“The breaking process was fairly uneventful, but you didn’t want to pick a fight with him because you’re going to lose, and I think he carried that competitiveness and demeanor into his racing career. When he gets that look on his face – I call it the shark eye – other horses will back away from where he wants to be. If you watch him walk into the paddock, he projects that same aura. I truly believe that he intimidates other horses. He comes in there all business and conveys that you don’t want to mess with me.”

Team Harwood arrives at the Longacres Mile with a fast and utterly consistent horse. Noosa Beach has recorded Beyer Speed Figures of 90 or higher in 11 consecutive starts, losing just once, by a neck, over the past two years. There is pressure in being the hunted, however, and a growing contingent of horsemen who would like nothing more than to see Noosa Beach get beat. Jockey Gallyn Mitchell was criticized for giving Noosa Beach a tentative ride in his last start, a half-length victory in the Mt. Rainier Handicap four weeks ago, but now the Harwoods are building him back up for the big race.

“This is every bit as big a deal to Gallyn as it is to us,” Jeff Harwood said. “The emotion in his voice after the Mt. Rainier, you know he loves this horse. Gallyn probably rode that race too passively, but he’s a human being just like the rest of us, and maybe we didn’t have the horse as sharp as he could have been. On Sunday, Noosa Beach will be at his very best. He’s going to run the race very aggressively. Noosa Beach, when he is at his best, he will run the other horses off their feet, and the race will essentially be over by the time they turn for home.”