08/20/2010 3:13PM

First turn always crucial in Longacres Mile

Emerald Downs
Noosa Beach, winner of the Mount Rainier Handicap at Emerald Downs, is the top local hope in Sunday's Grade 3 Longacres Mile.

AUBURN, Wash. – Not too long ago, Noosa Beach was regarded as a one-trick pony, a sprinter who couldn’t win an important race around two turns. Now, a couple of dominating route victories later, he’ll start as one of the favorites in the Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile on Sunday at Emerald Downs.

The leading Emerald-based contender in a full field of 12, Noosa Beach will try to repel challenges from Southern California invader Gallant Son, making his first local start since 2008, four horses from Hastings in Vancouver, B.C., four familiar rivals from the Emerald handicap ranks, and two horses jumping ambitiously from allowance company into the Northwest’s only graded race.

The Mile is the region’s most important race and has been ever since Longacres founder Joe Gottstein staged the first one in 1935. The purse includes $75,000 from the Breeders’ Cup Fund, and the race is part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge, giving the winner a guaranteed berth in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.

But first things first, and for Noosa Beach, a 4-year-old by the ascendant stallion Harbor the Gold, that means breaking crisply under jockey Ricky Frazier to gain a favorable position around the first turn. The Mile will be over in 94 seconds, give or take, and there’s little margin for error.

“The first 15 or 20 seconds of the race are crucial to your finish,” Frazier said. “That’s where most of the Miles are lost, in the first eighth of a mile. You may not win it there, but you can definitely lose it. It’s one of those things where there’s not a lot of time to overcome mistakes.”

With a short run to the first turn, inside positions are strongly preferred. Noosa Beach will start from post 5. His primary pace competitor, Burj Dubai, a lightly raced 4-year-old from Hastings, will break from the outside.

Only two Mile winners have started from post 12 – Coldwater in the inaugural Mile and Assessment just 12 months ago. It’s a daunting task, particularly for an inexperienced horse. Alex Solis will be in from Del Mar to ride Burj Dubai, and trainer Dino Condilenios said he’ll let the jockey determine whether they make a preemptive dash for the lead.

“I’ll leave that up to Alex; I’m not one to give instructions,” Condilenios said. “If everyone’s gunning for the lead, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to go. In a perfect world, we’d love to break quickly and get to the lead, or sit maybe a half-length off. Will that happen? We’ll see.”

Condilenios will saddle three starters – Burj Dubai, Teide, who finished third in the 2009 Mile, and Almost Time. All three would seem to have a legitimate chance, though Condilenios is particularly fond of Burj Dubai, who worked five furlongs in 57.40 seconds at Hastings on Aug. 14.

“This horse, honestly, has a turn of foot that I’ve never seen before,” Condilenios said. “He’ll break three lengths behind the field and make the lead by the first quarter.”

If that’s the case, Frazier and Noosa Beach could have their hands full as they maneuver for position on the backstretch. But trainer Doris Harwood, seeking her first Mile victory, said Noosa Beach is far from a one-dimensional front-runner.

“He has relaxed well when he’s been hooked, and he rated well as a 3-year-old,” Harwood said. “If anyone’s going faster than him, they’re probably going too fast, anyway.”

Just as Noosa Beach was typecast as a sprinter, Gallant Son, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, has been pigeon-holed as a turf specialist. The Frank Lucarelli-trained 4-year-old hasn’t won on anything other than grass since taking the Gottstein Futurity at Emerald in 2008. But Gallant Son loves Emerald’s sandy dirt, a point underscored during a powerful four-furlong workout Wednesday morning.

Frazier said Gallant Son concerns him more than any other horse.

“Gallant Son has an edge because he’s already proved he likes the racetrack,” Frazier said. “He’s been here, he’s won here. The outside horse, the speed, he’s unproven, though he’s clearly a good horse. Depending on what happens with pace and how the race sets up, Assessment could surely win it, Wasserman could win it, Teide could win it. But like I tell Doris all the time, she’s had Noosa Beach in peak condition since April. He’s the one I’d want if you said I could have any horse in the race.”