06/15/2010 12:00AM

Noosa Beach, Assessment among Bud Cap candidates


AUBURN, Wash. - Racing at Emerald Downs resumes Thursday evening with a seven-race card beginning at 6 p.m. Pacific, though horsemen and horseplayers already are looking ahead to Sunday, when the one-mile Budweiser Handicap will help bring the local handicap division into sharper focus.

Noosa Beach, who tied the six-furlong track record in his last start, and Assessment, the 2009 horse of meeting, top the list of 12 nominees for the Budweiser, a prominent signpost on the road to the Grade 3 Longacres Mile, now just nine weeks away. The Mile is the Northwest's only graded race, and with a purse of $250,000, easily the richest race at Emerald Downs.

The $50,000 Budweiser will be the meeting's first two-turn race for older stakes horses. Noosa Beach captured the Seattle Handicap by a length on May 16, running six furlongs in 1:07 to tie the track record set by Atta Boy Roy last September. Trained by Doris Harwood and owned by her husband, Jeff, Noosa Beach is 6 for 6 at sprint distances but winless in five tries at a mile or longer.

Noosa Beach is by Harbor the Gold, whose sire, Seeking the Gold, was a Grade 1 winner at 10 furlongs. Getting a mile shouldn't be a problem, though skeptics will remain until Noosa Beach wins beyond his comfort zone. In his first route try, as a 2-year-old in 2008, he finished third, two lengths behind Gallant Son, in the WTBA Lads Stakes. Later that summer, he chased Gallant Son all the way around the track in the 1 1/16-mile Gottstein Futurity, finishing six lengths back in second.

Last year, Noosa Beach was fourth, second, and third in consecutive route races to end his season. In his final start, he finished 1 3/4 lengths behind stablemate Winning Machine in the nine-furlong British Columbia Derby at Hastings.

Assessment won three stakes last summer, including the Longacres Mile. Laid off for nine months after undergoing ankle surgery to remove bone chips, he returned to the races May 16 in the Seattle Handicap and finished fifth, 3 1/2 lengths behind Noosa Beach. A talented middle-distance runner trained by Howard Belvoir, Assessment captured the 2010 Budweiser Handicap by a neck over stablemate Wasserman.

Winning Machine won the one-mile Tacoma Handicap and the nine-furlong Emerald Derby last summer before taking the British Columbia Derby. But Noosa Beach holds a 6-2 edge over Winning Machine in head-to-head matchups.