05/25/2012 3:26PM

Emerald Downs: Tough trip doomed Noosa Beach in Governor's Handicap


AUBURN, Wash. – Upon further review, Noosa Beach did not drive off a career cliff when he finished fourth last Sunday in the Governor’s Handicap at Emerald Downs. The two-time Washington horse of the year simply had a bad day, mostly through no fault of his own.

The jockey was new, the trip was poor, and the winner, the aptly named Winning Machine, was on top of his game, running 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.97 to earn a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 94.

That makes one bad day in two years for Noosa Beach, who had finished first or second in every start since Sept. 27, 2009, when he was third in the B.C. Derby at Hastings.

“The way I look at is, Noosa hadn’t had a bad trip in two years,” trainer Doris Harwood said Thursday, four days after the race and a couple of hours after Noosa Beach went “beautifully” in a morning gallop.

“I can’t sit here and complain about it,” Harwood said. “These things happen.”

The Governor’s was billed as a showdown between Noosa Beach and Hollywood Harbor, a front-running 5-year-old who had obliterated the North American speed record for 5 1/2 furlongs in his previous start. But when Hollywood Harbor stumbled at the start, the race turned upside down with Winning Machine shooting to the lead with the two favorites in hot pursuit.

Hollywood Harbor moved up to challenge nearing the turn, but began to drift out, taking Noosa Beach with him. By the time both horses got straightened away, the race was essentially over as Winning Machine skipped away to win by nearly two lengths. Jebrica rallied to finish second, a half-length ahead of Hollywood Harbor, with Noosa Beach another neck back after racing widest throughout.

“When Hollywood Harbor broke poorly, that put us on the outside of him, and we know how that horse gets out,” Harwood said. “He got out badly and there wasn’t any way to get around him. He was in a bad part of the racetrack.”

Leslie Mawing, who rode Noosa Beach for the first time, said as much after the race.

“I knew there was a quick pace up front,” Mawing said. “At the five-sixteenths pole, I had to ask him quite a bit. He wouldn’t change leads for me until I tapped him with the left-handed stick. By the time he switched leads, [Hollywood Harbor] was drifting out pretty wide and taking us with him. I was stuck in a pretty bad spot. He was moving pretty fast in the stretch, but we were losing too much ground.”

The next stop for Noosa Beach is the one-mile Budweiser Handicap on June 17.

In the meantime, Harwood will have to make do without another of her stable stars from 2011. Silver Boxcar, stakes placed last year at 2, was injured in a paddock mishap in late January and will be sidelined until 2013, Harwood said.

“He injured himself during the ice storm we had at the end of January; nobody realized how dangerous it was until trees were falling down everywhere,” Harwood said. “It was about four or five days before we were ready to bring him into the track.”

Silver Boxcar will be missed for his entertainment value alone. At 18 hands, he dwarfs many of his rivals, but the son of Silver Train travels more like a gazelle than an elephant. He went gate-to-wire in the six-furlong Premio Esmeralda Stakes in August, stopping the timer in 1:10.96.

“It’s a shame,” Harwood said of the injury, “but we’re optimistic.”

Sadler has rare Emerald runner

One of the nation’s leading trainers has a horse in at Emerald Downs on Sunday. Regal Betty, trained by John Sadler, is expected to start in the $50,000 Seattle Handicap for 3-year-old fillies. Sadler, based in Southern California, has started only one horse previously at Emerald – Wende finished second to Pleas Write in the inaugural Emerald Distaff in 1996.

Regal Betty finished a well-beaten fifth in the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks in her last start. In her prior outing, she won the one-mile Arizona Oaks at Turf Paradise. She is scheduled to be ridden by Antonio Castanon, who knows his way around Emerald Downs. Castanon has won 128 races and six stakes in Auburn and was runner-up in the 1996 jockey standings behind Vann Belvoir. He has been riding in Southern California for most of the past decade.

Lady Hokulea lacking a prep

Lady Hokulea will be among the leading contenders in the Seattle Handicap, though the lack of a recent prep race is a concern for Kay Cooper, who runs day-to-day operations for trainer Jim Penney.

Lady Hokulea won a maiden race in impressive fashion last September at Emerald and then was turned over to Bob Baffert in Southern California. After two starts in the big leagues, she was transferred to trainer Lloyd Mason at Golden Gate, where she finished third in an allowance race in her most recent start March 22.

“The owner sent her down to Baffert and he was working her with a lot of his Breeders’ Cup horses and it ended up being just too tough for her down there,” Cooper said. “The allowance races weren’t filling, so we sent her up to Lloyd and got her some easier company. I had hoped to get an allowance race here before the stake, but it didn’t fill.”