06/25/2009 11:00PM

Harwood sends three in Tacoma

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AUBURN, Wash. - The national 3-year-old scene is muddled in the wake of an entertaining but inconclusive Triple Crown series, but at Emerald Downs, there is no serious debate about the division leader. Noosa Beach is 2 for 2 in stakes races this season, and he figures to be a strong favorite Sunday in the $50,000 Tacoma Handicap, a key stepping-stone to the Emerald Derby.

Noosa Beach began his 2009 campaign with a front-running victory in the six-furlong Auburn Stakes in late April. He returned to win the 6 1/2-furlong Pepsi-Cola Handicap on May 31, holding off stablemate Winning Machine to win by a head and remain undefeated in four starts around one turn. He'll stretch out to a mile Sunday while tackling eight rivals.

Doris Harwood, who trains Noosa Beach for her husband, Jeff, will saddle three horses for the Tacoma Handicap. Winning Machine, who races for Fleur de Lis Stables, closed courageously in the Pepsi-Cola and could benefit from the added distance. Proud Nicholas, a recent winner of a six-furlong allowance race in 1:08.20 for owner Frank Gaunt, will help ensure a fast pace for his stablemates.

Proud Nicholas set breakneck fractions in the 1 1/16-mile Gottstein Futurity last September before fading to sixth, 18 lengths behind the winner, Gallant Son. Noosa Beach finished second that day after pressing the pace, and while he has yet to win in two attempts around two turns, he is clearly the horse to beat. Juan Gutierrez, who has been aboard for each of his six starts, has the call. Harwood has named Ricky Frazier to ride Winning Machine, and Saul Arias has the mount on Proud Nicholas.

Rooster City and Edgerin J are worthy challengers to the Harwood trio. Rooster City, trained by Tim McCanna for owner Victor Bahna Jr., finished a close second behind Noosa Beach in the Auburn Stakes and then broke slowly en route to a fifth-place finish in the Pepsi-Cola. A mile might be Rooster City's best distance; he finished second behind Gallant Son in the one-mile WTBA Lads last summer after surging to a short lead inside the final furlong. Seth Martinez has the riding assignment.

Edgerin J won a maiden sprint in his first career start May 10, prevailing gamely after setting the pace. He broke slowly in his second start but finished well to be fourth behind Proud Nicholas. Trained by Jim Penney for owners Mike and Amy Feuerborn, Edgerin J has hinted at a bright future, and the Kentucky-bred by The Cliff's Edge stands to prosper around two turns. He'll be ridden by apprentice Cassie Papineau.

Quinalt also looms a threat. Trained by Carlos Moreno for his wife, Maria Isabel, Quinalt returned from a 10-week freshening to run fourth in the Pepsi-Cola. In his previous start, he closed strongly to finish second in the nine-furlong Oregon Derby at Portland Meadows. Northern California-based jockey Jorge Ayarza is schedule to ride.