05/18/2012 3:42PM

Emerald Downs: Noosa Beach, Hollywood Harbor face off in Governor’s


AUBURN, Wash. – After blazing parallel paths to stardom in Northwest racing, Noosa Beach and Hollywood Harbor will meet for the first time Sunday in the $50,000 Governor’s Handicap at Emerald Downs, the showcase event on an 11-race card that begins at 2 p.m. Pacific.

The Noosa Beach story is already part of local legend. He captured the Grade 3 Longacres Mile during a breakout campaign in 2010, and then came oh so close to a perfect season in 2011, winning his first four starts before a valiant runner-up effort in the Mile. Overall, Noosa Beach has won 14 of 21 starts for Team Harwood – trainer Doris Harwood and her husband, Jeff, the owner/breeder.

At 5, Hollywood Harbor is a year younger than Noosa Beach, lacking the same kind of battle-tested experience but possessing an equally fast turn of foot. In his first start of 2012, the front-running Hollywood Harbor set a North American dirt speed record by running 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:00.87.

Hollywood Harbor was assigned a Beyer Speed Figure of just 93 for that effort, a nod to a racing surface that was playing much faster than normal. Noosa Beach has recorded Beyers of 93 or higher in nine of his past 11 starts. He’s been there, done that. He also owns a share of the six-furlong track record, covering the distance in 1:07 in the 2010 Seattle Handicap.

Noosa Beach will have a new rider Sunday, as the Harwoods decided Leslie Mawing would be a better fit than Gallyn Mitchell, who rode Noosa Beach in each of his starts last summer. Chris Stenslie, who trains Hollywood Harbor for owner Jody Peetz, is sticking with journeyman Jose Zunino, who has been aboard for five of Hollywood Harbor’s six career victories.

In addition to playing their own cat-and-mouse game Sunday, the two favorites will have to contend with three other talented sprinters over the 6 1/2 furlongs. Winning Machine boasts stakes victories both short and long and is closing in on $400,000 in career earnings. Couldabenthewhisky has four stakes victories in his back pocket. Jebrica, hero of the Emerald Derby in August, has a couple of sprint victories and comes into the race on the heels of a workout – six furlongs in 1:10 – that could signal it’s more than a two-horse race.

If the Governor’s unfolds according to form, Hollywood Harbor will set the pace with Noosa Beach in close pursuit. Winning Machine and Couldabenthewhisky do their best running from midpack. Jebrica is the resolute closer. If Noosa Beach wins, or if Hollywood Harbor wins, nothing will necessarily be settled. It’s their first meeting. It probably won’t be their last.