05/18/2012 2:59PM

Emerald Downs: Jebrica primed for Governor’s Handicap

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AUBURN, Wash. – Quick, who ran the fastest race at Emerald Downs in 2011? It wasn’t Noosa Beach, the reigning heavyweight champion, Northwest Division, and it wasn’t Awesome Gem, the horse who KO’ed Noosa Beach in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile.

Jebrica was the fastest horse at Emerald last year, at least for one day. The people who compile Beyer Speed Figures assigned a 98 for his victory in the nine-furlong Emerald Derby, and Jebrica looks to be sitting on more fireworks Sunday as he makes his season debut in the $50,000 Governor’s Handicap.

Kay Cooper, who handles day-to-day operations for trainer Jim Penney, said she was confident Jebrica would give a stellar effort Sunday, even if sprinting isn’t his greatest strength. In addition to his Emerald Derby victory, Jebrica downed older horses over 11 furlongs in the $100,000 B.C. Premier Handicap at Hastings in October.

“He was awfully brave at a mile and eighth last year,” Cooper said. “I think a mile to a mile and an eighth would be easiest on him, but I feel he’ll run an excellent six and one half. I’m glad it’s six and a half, and not six.”

Noosa Beach is the horse to beat. That’s not news to anyone. But it’s far from a one-horse race.

“It’s the best five on the racetrack,” Cooper said. “We all have to outrun Noosa Beach; he’s the king of the track. But Hollywood Harbor is a flashy horse, he’s been training excellent, and he ran a wonderful race last time. Hollywood Harbor should be the dominant speed, and that’s going to be to his advantage.”

“It’s a salty, salty group. Winning Machine went up north and that tightener for him is going to be fantastic. And Couldabenthewhisky also has an advantage over Noosa Beach and Jebrica in terms of having had a prep.”

With five versatile horses in the mix, Cooper said good old-fashioned race-riding could determine the outcome. Jebrica has a new jockey, William Antongeorgi III, who was aboard Monday morning when Jebrica blistered six furlongs in 1:10, creating a stir on the Emerald backside and serving notice that Jebrica is primed to deliver a haymaker.

“He worked good,” Cooper said by way of understatement. “He’s been plagued like every other athlete with his aches and pains, but when he gets in his peak form, he lets you know. It’s not his best distance, but I don’t think he’ll disappoint us.”

Remembering Pierce’s seven-win day

Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of one of the enduring feats in Northwest racing history: jockey Larry Pierce’s seven-win day at Longacres on May 20, 1972. Emerald Downs will commemorate the anniversary before the sixth race, the Larry Pierce Purse.

At the time, Pierce was just the seventh jockey in the history of North American racing to ride seven winners on a single card.

“I’m really flattered that people remember it from so long ago,” Pierce said this week. “It feels pretty good.”

Pierce was 26 and at the top of his game on his record-setting day. He had captured riding titles at Longacres the previous two seasons, and after getting shut out on opening day of the 1972 meeting, won with all but one of his eight mounts on the first Saturday of the meet. Pierce vividly recalls winning aboard Sevant, a filly for trainer Lanna Taylor, now with the Washington HBPA. He also recalls that his original intent was to be elsewhere that momentous day.

“Nick Puhich was my agent and a good friend of mine,” Pierce said. “He treated me like I was his son, trying to keep me on the straight and narrow. Well, an owner wanted me to ride his horse at Golden Gate that day, and I wanted to go, and Nick said absolutely not.

“Nick told me I was on some live horses, and then everything fell into place. The eighth horse I rode, her saddle slipped, or she could have won, too. And then nobody would have talked to me. It was a pretty incredible day.”

Mangalee takes over in marketing department

Sophia Mangalee had little choice but to hit the ground running last Saturday in her first day as Emerald’s new director of marketing. The meet was more than a month old when she arrived from her previous job at Monmouth Park, and Mother’s Day, one of the biggest days of the season, was just around the corner.

By the end of a sun-splashed weekend, after about 10,000 spent part of their holiday at the track, Mangalee had already moved on to her most pressing assignment: Formulating a promotional campaign to increase ontrack attendance. In that effort, Mangalee will try to further the good work done by her predecessor, Adrian Buchan, who oversaw what Emerald officials say was an 11 percent attendance increase in 2011.

“I’ve got big shoes to fill,” Mangalee said. “I just hope I can add a lot more. I’m excited about it. I see this as a great opportunity. We’re going to take a more aggressive, event-driven marketing approach, and start to develop some core, cornerstone events, where we can drive attendance. Once we get them here, we’re going to do a great job educating them about racing.”

Mangalee attended the Racetrack Industry Program at the University of Arizona and spent six years at Monmouth, in Oceanport, N.J., where her husband, Navin Mangalee, is a jockey. But her roots are local – she’s a native of Peshastin, Wash., and her arrival at Emerald was a homecoming. Mangalee exercised horses for trainer Sharon Ross in 2004 and interned in Emerald’s media-relations department in 2005.