09/01/2010 1:14PM

Stakes winner Koala Beach drops in for a $15,000 tag

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AUBURN, Wash. – Koala Beach, a stakes winner less than 10 weeks ago, is scheduled to start in a $15,000 claiming race Friday as Emerald Downs heads into the final four weeks of its 90-day meeting.

Koala Beach would seem to be a bargain for $15,000 – he has earned an average of $12,169 per start during his fledgling career for owner Jeff Harwood. But the 3-year-old gelding finished a distant last in the Emerald Derby in his most recent outing Aug. 15, his second consecutive subpar performance following a victory in the $50,000 Pepsi Cola Handicap in late June.

If Koala Beach has tailed off severely, Friday’s race will be wide open. But if Koala Beach can muster a semblance of his best form, the others will be hard-pressed to beat him. The race is at one mile, and Koala Beach is a multiple stakes winner around two turns, capturing the 1-1/16-mile Gottstein Futurity by eight lengths last September, and the one-mile Pepsi Cola by a nose June 27.

Ricky Frazier, who enters the week with a commanding 97-73 lead in the jockey standings over runner-up Juan Gutierrez, has the call for trainer Doris Harwood. Koala Beach has abundant speed and figures to be forwardly placed behind probable pacesetters Newfound Gold and Private Jettz. Or, Frazier could hustle his mount to the front and run those two into the ground. In any event, Koala Beach figures to be a short-priced favorite in the field of eight.

Other leading contenders are Cyber Bell, a late runner who won his only start at a mile July 16, and the trio of Certified Diamond, Newfound Gold, and Big Sky Posse, who finished less than two lengths apart in a $15,000 claimer three weeks ago.

Jennifer Whitaker has the riding assignment on Cyber Bell for trainer Howard Belvoir. Cyber Bell finished a non-threatening sixth in a $25,000 claiming sprint in his last start but could benefit from the class drop and added distance in Friday’s race.

Certified Diamond, working on a three-race winning streak for trainer Vann Belvoir, will be ridden by Gallyn Mitchell. Inoel Beato will ride Newfound Gold for Larry Ross, and Kevin Krigger has the call on Big Sky Posse for leading trainer Tim McCanna, who holds a 53-46 lead over Vann Belvoir with 14 racing days remaining.

The four-day racing week concludes Monday with a Labor Day card beginning at 2 p.m. Pacific.