07/02/2010 11:00PM

Realistically, local Mile contenders number five


AUBURN, Wash. -- The $250,000 Longacres Mile, Emerald Downs' richest race, is just seven weeks away, long enough to further separate the contenders from the pretenders, but probably not long enough for a locally based mystery horse to emerge. If an Emerald-based runner is to win this year's Mile, he'll likely come from a small group that includes Noosa Beach, Assessment, Winning Machine, Gallon, Posse Power, and Rooster City.

Many of the horses on that list will compete Sunday in the $50,000 Governor's Handicap at 6 1/2 furlongs, Emerald's final sprint stakes for older horses but not necessarily a good predictor of Mile success. Since Emerald Downs opened in 1996, only two of the 14 Governor's winners have gone on to capture the Mile, the Northwest's only graded race -- No Giveaway in 2005 and Wasserman in 2008.

Sprinters regularly take the Governor's, but a true sprinter seldom wins the Grade 3 Mile. Atta Boy Roy learned that the hard way last August, setting a breathtakingly fast pace -- 21.80 seconds for the first quarter, 44 seconds for the half, 1:07.60 for six furlongs -- before fading to finish fifth.

A better Longacres Mile barometer is the $50,000 Mount Rainier Handicap at nine furlongs, scheduled this year for Aug. 1, three weeks before the Mile. Three of the past four Mount Rainier winners doubled back to take the Mile -- Flamethrowintexan in 2006, The Great Face in 2007, and Assessment in 2009 -- and Wasserman finished second in the 2008 Mount Rainier, a head behind Chhaya Dance, before his Mile victory. Chhaya Dance? He was injured and missed the Mile.

Noosa Beach leads the group of local contenders; he is 3 for 3 at the meeting and raced to impressive victories in the six-furlong Seattle Handicap May 16 and the one-mile Budweiser Handicap June 20. Trainer Doris Harwood has said Noosa Beach might run Sunday in the Governor's and then work his way up to the Mile. If so, he would be trying to buck a notable trend; nine of the past 10 Mile winners competed at a longer distance in their final prep before the Mile.

Six of the 10 exited the Mount Rainier Handicap. Two others, Irisheyesareflying (2001) and Sky Jack (2003), shipped in on the heels of longer races at Hollywood Park. Adreamisborn, winner of the 2004 Mile, won a 1 1/16-mile stakes at Pleasanton. The only exception was No Giveaway, who parlayed a 2 1/4-length victory in the 2005 Governor's Handicap into a three-quarter-length victory in the Longacres Mile.