07/06/2012 4:07PM

Emerald Downs: Noosa Beach out indefinitely following starting gate mishap


AUBURN, Wash. – The Noosa Beach saga took an unexpected turn this week when the two-time Washington horse of the year was sidelined because of injuries apparently sustained when he flipped in the starting gate before his scheduled start in the Budweiser Handicap at Emerald Downs on June 17.

Noosa Beach’s injuries were first believed to be superficial, but trainer Doris Harwood said the horse wasn’t up to par in a workout eight days later. Harwood, who trains Noosa Beach for her husband, Jeff, sent the horse home to their farm in Auburn, with no timetable for his return.

An 11-time stakes winner at Emerald Downs, Noosa Beach had been a leading candidate for the Grade 3 Longacres Mile on Aug. 19, a race he won in 2010. After being scratched at the gate following the Budweiser mishap, he was being readied for a start in the July 2 Lt. Governor’s Handicap at Hastings.

“We were planning to go to that race up in Canada, and Billy Antongeorgi was going to ride him up there,” Harwood said this week. “He worked him and said he didn’t feel right. He said he might be 99 percent, but you know what, that’s not good enough. We could tell he wasn’t quite himself.”

Harwood said she had yet to pinpoint the nature of Noosa Beach’s injury, but seemed certain the starting-gate incident was the cause. Noosa Beach, agitated when the jockey on another horse used his whip to coax his mount into line, reared back suddenly and pitched jockey Leslie Mawing through the back of the starting gate.

“He obviously tweaked something,” Harwood said. “That was a pretty bad wreck in the gate. We didn’t see any particular thing that made him lame, but he obviously tweaked something.”

This latest turn of events caps a bizarre 2012 campaign for Noosa Beach. In his first and only start, he finished fourth in the Governor’s Handicap after getting carried into the middle of the racetrack by a rival who bore out badly. That snapped a remarkable string of successes for a horse who never finished worse than second in 12 starts over the previous two years.

Overall, the 6-year-old Noosa Beach has won 14 of 24 starts with earnings of $524,472.

Harwood said the decision to turn out her stable star was an easy one.

“It was really simple,” she said. “We treasure him, we honor what he’s done for us, and it was an easy decision to send him home.”

“I looked out there today and he’s running from one end of the pasture to the other end,” Harwood said Thursday. “He’s having a lot of fun, and it makes my heart feel good. How long he’s out in the sunshine playing, I don’t know. As long as he’s happy and healthy, we’re fine. We’re not disappointed.”

Polish Dollar climbs class ladder

Polish Dollar began the Emerald meeting as a $5,000 claimer, and while he’s not a stakes-caliber horse just yet, his rapid climb into the allowance ranks has been nothing short of remarkable.

After winning a $5,000 claiming sprint on April 28, Polish Dollar fell victim to a troubled trip in a $10,000 claimer in his next start. But with a new rider, William Antongeorgi III, on board for his next subsequent start, Polish Dollar ran the race of his life, routing $10,000 claimers by more than five lengths while running 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:14.70.

That effort was rewarded with a Beyer Speed Figure of 92, the third-highest Beyer through the first 39 days of the meeting. Only Winning Machine, who was assigned a 94 for his victory in the Governor’s Handicap, and Hollywood Harbor, who got a 93 when he broke the North American record for 5 1/2 furlongs on dirt, have gone faster.

“I don’t pay much attention to Beyers or anything else,” trainer Bob Meeking said. “I thought he would win the race, though. He should have won the day he ran fourth. It was a horrendous trip. He didn’t break, and he was wandering around in the back with nowhere to run. He must have been five lengths the best horse.”

Meeking was so enthused, he pushed Polish Dollar into the deep end of the talent pool in his next start, and against a strong field of first-level allowance runners June 30, Polish Dollar responded with another runaway victory and an 81 Beyer Speed Figure. The betting public made him the 6-5 favorite.

“I was surprised. I thought at 4-1 or 5-1, he looked really legitimate,” Meeking said. “But in my heart of hearts, I know that [trainer] Bill Tollett would send his horse and kill off Cat On Base. I told my rider to sit third right behind these horses and I think they’ll fold up at the top of the lane. When things work out like that, it’s absolutely unbelievable. It went exactly as we had it planned.”

As for what’s next, Meeking said a route of ground would be ideal for Polish Dollar, a son of Polish Gift.

“There should be another race of that kind again, with similar horses, or maybe we’ll have to move him up a little bit,” he said. “And my gut feeling is, he’ll run better going a mile. He needs to get more confidence built up before we try anything more ambitious.”