06/15/2012 1:10PM

Emerald Downs: Noosa Beach tries to remain king of hill in Budweiser Cap

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AUBURN, Wash. -- On Father’s Day at Emerald Downs, the Northwest’s Big Daddy, Noosa Beach, will try to get back on the winning beam in the day’s showcase event, the $50,000 Budweiser Handicap. First post is 2 p.m. Pacific, and the Budweiser is the eighth race on a 10-race program.

There are many intriguing story lines on the undercard – a raft of promising 3-year-old fillies in race 6, and Wasserman, the all-time leading money winner at Washington racetracks, as a leading contender in race 8 – but Noosa Beach is once again the main attraction, as he has been for most of the past three years. Since the start of the 2010 season, gelding Noosa Beach has won 9 of his 12 local starts, including eight stakes. He figures to be a short-priced favorite in the Budweiser.

But Noosa Beach is no sure thing. He suffered a surprising defeat in his first start of the year after getting carried far wide on the turn, and his adversaries in the Budweiser include rising 4-year-olds Rainier Ice and Jebrica, both of whom seem capable of filling the void at the top of the handicap division should Noosa Beach falter. Leslie Mawing, who steered Noosa Beach to a fourth-place finish in the 6-1/2-furlong Governor’s Handicap, has the ride for trainer Doris Harwood.

Noosa Beach has been a holy terror at the one-mile distance of the Budweiser. He won four consecutive starts at the distance – including a powerful victory in the Grade 3 Longacres Mile in 2010 – before a runner-up effort behind Awesome Gem in the Longacres Mile last August. The Budweiser has been an accurate predictor of Longacres Mile success in recent years, with both Assessment (2009) and Noosa Beach parlaying Budweiser victories into subsequent wins in the Northwest’s only graded race.

Noosa Beach is fast enough to set the pace Sunday, though that’s not his preferred running style. He has been most comfortable in stalk-and-pounce mode, and that could mean leaving the pacesetting duties to Rainier Ice, who smoked six furlongs in 1:08.10 in his first start of the year, or Winning Machine, who captured the Governor’s Handicap by taking the shortest path to the finish line while Noosa Beach floundered in the middle of a wet and tiring racetrack.

If the pace is moderate, Noosa Beach could have a tactical advantage over late runners Jebrica, hero of the 2011 Emerald Derby, Aaron the Baron, winner of a one-mile allowance race in his last start, and Slim Pickins, a 4-year-old who has yet to hit the board in a stakes.