05/20/2011 2:38PM

Emerald Downs: Noosa Beach streaks into Governor's Handicap

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AUBURN, Wash. – Noosa Beach has been brilliant for a long time now, finishing first in seven of eight starts since the 2010 Emerald Downs meeting began last April. A convincing winner in his 2011 debut a month ago, he’ll carry a four-race win streak into Sunday’s $50,000 Governor’s Handicap, the first in a series of stakes tests for older horses leading to the Grade 3 Longacres Mile.

Noosa Beach suffered his only recent nick in the 2010 Governor’s, losing by a neck to 2009 Longacres Mile winner Assessment after setting a fast and pressured pace. Otherwise, it’s been clear sailing. He broke the Emerald season record for stakes victories with five, captured the Longacres Mile with relative ease, and took horse of the meeting honors in a canter. He might have been a contender in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, too, had owner Jeff Harwood elected to try it.

Jersey Town, second behind Noosa Beach in the Longacres Mile, subsequently won the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. Jersey Town is being prepared for the 2011 Breeders’ Cup, and perhaps Noosa Beach can join him at Churchill Downs in November. But first things first: Noosa Beach must re-establish his primacy over the local handicap division and then maintain his edge for the next six months. Ten horses signed on to challenge him in the Governor’s, and the list includes heavy hitters Assessment, Peaceful Reign, multiple stakes winner Winning Machine, and 2010 Emerald Derby hero Saratoga Boot.

Even with 10 challengers, Noosa Beach figures to be a short-priced favorite. He’s been training exceptionally well, and his year got off to a blazing start when he won the George Royal Stakes at Hastings in Vancouver, British Columbia, on April 22. Overall, the Harwood homebred has earned $398,222, with victories in 11 of 17 starts. Harwood’s wife, Doris, is the trainer, and Gallyn Mitchell, Emerald’s all-time leader in wins and earnings, has stepped in as the regular rider in place of Ricky Frazier, who has been laid up since October because of injuries.

Noosa Beach drew the No. 11 post for the 6 1/2-furlong Governor’s. Starting from the outside should keep him clear of traffic in the early going but could push him into a less-desirable path on the turn. In any event, he figures to sit just behind front-runners Bogachiel and Boundtogetbusy before making his move. He employed similar tactics in the George Royal, surging through an opening with three furlongs to run and pulling away from there.