08/24/2010 2:58PM

Noosa Beach out for local stakes record


AUBURN, Wash. – Noosa Beach was full of himself Monday, a day after winning the Grade 3 Longacres Mile. An injury to his right front foot, sustained shortly after he left the starting gate, was less severe than originally feared, and the speedy 4-year-old was feeling his oats.

“He’s missing a little skin, he’s got a deep bruise in there, but the injury looks a lot better than it did yesterday,” trainer Doris Harwood said Monday afternoon. “He ate all his dinner last night, and he looked pretty darn good today. He was proud of himself, without a doubt.”

As well he might be. In capturing the signature event on Emerald Downs’ stakes calendar, and rather easily at that, Noosa Beach recorded his seventh local stakes victory. Only four other horses have won as many since the suburban Seattle track opened in 1996, and barring injury, Noosa Beach will have a bushel of chances to overtake 10-time stakes winner Handy N Bold as the all-time leader.

Noosa Beach has been the picture of consistent excellence, winning nine of his 15 starts while missing the board just once. In a sport requiring racing luck, he’s had a little of that, too. Indeed, his very existence required a fortuitous turn of events in May 2005, when Harwood and her husband, Jeff, sent one of their mares to a breeding farm in Hermiston, Ore.

Bar C Racing Stables was home to the stallion Tiffany Ice, who had sired a handful of runners for the Harwoods. But Tiffany Ice was getting along in years, and, as Bar C owner Pam Christopherson recalled, his appointment with the mare, Julia Rose, resulted in something resembling a lovers’ quarrel. Julia Rose raised a ruckus, and Tiffany Ice refused to cooperate.

“He wanted nothing to do with her,” Christopherson said. “So we called Jeff and Doris and said, ‘If you want a foal, you’ll have to have one with the new guy,’ and that’s how Noosa Beach came to be.”

“Pam said perhaps we’d be interested in a stallion they’d just acquired called Harbor the Gold,” Harwood said. “Jeff looked up his pedigree and really loved the nicking pattern, so we said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ Jeff made the decision then and there to switch stallions.”

Harbor the Gold, by Seeking the Gold, had been culled from trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ racing stable and sold privately to Christopherson and her husband, Neal. A half-brother to 1996 Eclipse Award-winning juvenile Boston Harbor, Harbor the Gold has been nothing short of sensational since entering stud that fateful day. Noosa Beach was his first foal to hit the ground. Sunday, he became Harbor the Gold’s first graded stakes winner.

“He’s terrific,” Christopherson said of Noosa Beach. “He’s got a lot of possibilities, a lot of heart. He does it all so easily. He’s a big, long-striding colt, and Doris does such a good job taking care of him, giving him winters off and letting him grow as a racehorse.”

Christopherson had played matchmaker for the Harwoods once before. She introduced the couple at Yakima Meadows in 1993, when Jeff Harwood was dabbling as a horse owner and Doris, then single, was getting her sea legs as a trainer.

On the day they met, Doris saddled a 3-year-old stakes winner named For the Children for her primary client, former Longacres owner Kenny Alhadeff. For the Children finished third in the 1993 Longacres Mile but suffered fatal injuries while training for his 4-year-old season. Smitten with the horse, Jeff Harwood dove into the study of bloodlines, determined to re-create For the Children’s will to win. Two decades later, that study led him, at the most opportune time, to Harbor the Gold.

In an emotional winner’s circle ceremony Sunday, Jeff Harwood thanked Alhadeff for his role in those events. And that’s where the story came full circle. Alhadeff’s grandfather, Joe Gottstein, built Longacres and staged the first Mile back in 1935.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Noosa Beach will be back to defend his title in 2011. He will race once more this year, Doris Harwood said, but a start in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile is out of the question. Noosa Beach earned a guaranteed starting spot in the Nov. 6 event at Churchill Downs with his victory Sunday, but would have to be supplemented to the race at a prohibitive cost.

“I called the Breeders’ Cup people after he won the Mount Rainier Handicap, and they told me it would take $230,000 to get him eligible,” Harwood said. “We have to work for a living.”

“I think he’ll be ready for Washington Cup Day, without a doubt. He’ll be there to give his fans his last hurrah. After that, I’ve got a pasture with his name on it and a lot of grass already in it. We’ll bring him home, give him a lot of love, and bring him back next year.”