04/23/2012 7:21AM

Emerald Downs: Hollywood Harbor sets world record for 5 1/2 furlongs


AUBURN, Wash. – The Pacific Northwest has long been a birthing ground for speed records, and on Sunday at Emerald Downs, a horse bred in Washington, Hollywood Harbor, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on dirt faster than any other horse in the history of North American racing.

Making his first start following an eight-month break, and using the outing as a prep for a stakes race next month, Hollywood Harbor rallied from slightly off the pace to prevail by three lengths in 1:00.87. His time bettered the previous North American dirt record, set by Rule by Force at Yavapai Downs in 2009, by 0.16 seconds.

A 5-year-old gelding who has missed long stretches of his career because of injuries and was making just his 10th start, Hollywood Harbor tracked eager pacesetter Hayjax through an opening quarter in 21.46 before summoning a burst of speed on the turn to blow by Hayjax. Hollywood Harbor and jockey Jose Zunino recorded splits of 43.50 for the half and 54.85 for five furlongs, the latter easily faster than the North American five-furlong record set by Chinook Pass at Longacres in 1983.

Hollywood Harbor reached the finish with a comfortable margin over the late-running Aaron the Baron, who charged home to edge Hayjax for the place. They were followed by Couldabenthewhisky, Davos, and He’s All Heart in the field of six older runners, many of whom could be seen next in the 6 1/2-furlong Governor’s Handicap on May 13.

Hollywood Harbor was the champion 2-year-old at Emerald in 2009 but his career went sideways early in his 3-year-old campaign after he was injured during a start at Hollywood Park. After more than a year on the shelf, he was able to make just four starts in 2011, with persistent foot problems costing him at least one victory and aborting a possible start in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile.

Another long break, this one eight months, and a string of fast workouts had Hollywood Harbor primed for his first start of 2012. Trainer Chris Stenslie, who owns the horse with Jody Peetz of Issaquah, Wash., was expecting a big effort. What she got was even better.

“He’s just amazing,” Stenslie said. “He’s been training really well, and his feet have been holding up better than in the past … He’s just really, really fast. But like we saw for a lot of 2011, he is fragile.”

Hollywood Harbor now has six wins to go with three runner-up finishes; his misfortune in Southern California is the only real blemish on his record. He might be the fastest horse yet sired by Northwest stallion sensation Harbor the Gold.

The acid test could come in the Governor’s Handicap, in which another formidable son of Harbor the Gold, two-time Washington horse of the year Noosa Beach, is expected to make his season debut. Noosa Beach owns a share of Emerald’s six-furlong track record, running 1:07 in 2010. It would be one of the most anticipated races in the history of Emerald Downs.

“I respect all the horses,” Zunino, Hollywood Harbor’s regular pilot, said of a possible meeting with Noosa Beach. “But to be honest, I don’t worry about the names. I know that even if my horse gets beat, he’ll give me everything he has.”