06/17/2011 2:53PM

Emerald Downs: Noosa Beach will be hard to handle in Budweiser

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Emerald Downs
Noosa Beach goes for his fifth straight victory over the past two seasons in the Budweiser Handicap.

AUBURN, Wash. – Noosa Beach, the rock star of Northwest racing, can add to his string of No. 1 hits when he starts as the high weight and odds-on favorite Sunday in the $50,000 Budweiser Handicap at Emerald Downs.

Unbeaten in two starts this year, Noosa Beach will be gunning for his fifth consecutive victory since last July, and his eighth win in nine starts since Emerald’s 2010 meeting began last April. He was brilliant in his most recent outing, circling the field on the turn to take a one-length victory in the 6-1/2-furlong Governor’s Handicap on May 22. They will race an additional 330 yards on Sunday, but that won’t be a problem for Noosa Beach – he has won his past three starts at one mile.

As dominant as Noosa Beach has been – the 5-year-old gelding has nine career stakes victories at Emerald, one short of Handy N Bold’s track record – nothing has been conceded to Noosa Beach. He prevailed in a 10-horse field in the Governor’s and will face seven horses Sunday, including a couple of runners with realistic chances to upend the king.

A strong showing could put Noosa Beach on a path to the Breeders’ Cup this fall at Churchill Downs. His handlers, trainer Doris Harwood and owner Jeff Harwood, her husband, have until the end of the month to pay a $25,000 nomination fee, and Doris Harwood said a decision would be made following the Budweiser. Shorter term, Noosa Beach is being pointed toward a defense of his title in the Grade 3, $200,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 21.

Assessment, who won the 2009 Longacres Mile and was second behind Noosa Beach in the Governor’s Handicap in his last start, seems to have the best upset chance Sunday. He fell just a length short in the Governor’s and might have been closer if not for a traffic jam on the turn. A mile might be his best distance, and he’s the last horse to defeat Noosa Beach, holding him at bay through the final furlong to take the 2010 Governor’s by a neck.

Tequila Gold, a speedy newcomer to the stakes division, and Saratoga Boot, dominant winner of the 2010 Emerald Derby, are other leading contenders. Tequila Gold worked his way up the claiming ladder last summer, winning each of his four starts during an injury-shortened season, and won his 2011 debut in a first-level allowance. He jumped into deeper waters last month in the Governor’s and did well to finish third, 1 1/2 lengths behind Noosa Beach, after being forced to alter course at the top of the stretch.