05/28/2009 11:00PM

Noosa Beach faces threats in Pepsi-Cola

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AUBURN, Wash. - With the Emerald Downs Derby more than three months away, Noosa Beach is the leader of the track's 3-year-old division. He will be the horse to beat Sunday in the $50,000 Pepsi-Cola Handicap, a 6 1/2-furlong stepping-stone to the 1 1/8-mile Derby on Sept. 7.

Sunday's 10-race program begins at 2 p.m., and the Pepsi-Cola is the sixth race on the card.

Trained by Doris Harwood for her husband, Jeff, Noosa Beach began his career last August with an easy score against $12,500 maiden claimers at 4 1/2 furlongs. After finishing a close third in the one-mile WTBA Lads in his next start, he stalked a quick pace in the six-furlong Captain Condo Stakes and drew off to win by more than five lengths.

He finished his 2-year-old campaign with a runner-up finish behind Gallant Son in the 1 1/16-mile Gottstein Futurity in late September, and won his 2009 debut, leading throughout in the six-furlong, $30,000 Auburn Stakes on April 26. A perfect 3 for 3 around one turn, he could be the betting favorite Sunday in the field of eight. Juan Gutierrez will ride.

Noosa Beach defeated only four horses in the Auburn. He will face a far deeper field in the Pepsi-Cola. Promising recent winners Peaceful Reign, Strawberry Topper, and Roy's Tops are scheduled to make their stakes debuts, and the Harwood-trained Winning Machine, an impressive winner of a first-level allowance race in his first start of 2009, figures to attract support in the wagering.

But the biggest danger to Noosa Beach is Rooster City, a fast-closing second in the Auburn Stakes in his 2009 debut. Owned by Victor Bahna Jr. and trained by Tim McCanna, Rooster City has only 1 win in 6 career starts, but he has been stakes-placed twice. In addition to his runner-up finish in the Auburn Stakes, he was narrowly beaten by Gallant Son in the WTBA Lads last summer. Emerald Downs' leading rider, Ricky Frazier, has been aboard for Rooster City's past four starts and will ride him again Sunday.

Without a lot of speed in the race, Strawberry Topper could be dangerous on a surface that has been kind to front-runners. Strawberry Topper posted quick fractions winning a first-level allowance race in his most recent start and seems to be improving with each start. Trained by Dan Markle, he will be ridden by defending Emerald riding champion Seth Martinez.