06/17/2010 11:00PM

Top draw for Noosa Beach

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AUBURN, Wash. - A highly competitive group of nine older horses is set to compete Sunday in the $50,000 Budweiser Handicap at Emerald Downs, with four of them likely to vie for the role of post-time favorite.

The race is a stepping-stone to the Grade 3, $250,000 Longacres Mile on Aug. 22, and the field includes past Mile winners Wasserman (2008) and Assessment (2009). The Budweiser is the sixth race on a 10-race program beginning at 2 p.m. Pacific.

Noosa Beach, a two-time stakes winner at the current meeting, leads the quartet of likely favorites despite an 0-for-5 record in races around two turns. Assessment should be well backed in his second start after a nine-month layoff. Peaceful Reign, who finished third behind Noosa Beach in the six-furlong Seattle Handicap in his last start, has a strong record in route races. Winning Machine won three stakes around two turns in 2009.

Noosa Beach drew the advantageous inside post position; horses breaking from the No. 1 post going a mile were 11 for 39 through last Sunday, a 28 percent success rate. Add to that Noosa Beach's early speed on a surface that has been kind to front-runners, and the Doris Harwood-trained 4-year-old looms a formidable threat. Ricky Frazier has the riding assignment.

Assessment finished fifth, 3 1/2 lengths behind Noosa Beach, in the Seattle Handicap, and trainer Howard Belvoir expects him to move forward at his preferred distance. Assessment won the Budweiser last summer, one of his three stakes victories in a nine-week span. He'll break from the No. 5 post.

Peaceful Reign, trained by Vann Belvoir and ridden for the first time Sunday by Kevin Krigger, and Winning Machine (Harwood, Francisco Duran) drew the Nos. 8 and 9 posts, respectively. Peaceful Reign provides pace competition for Noosa Beach, while Winning Machine is capable of striking from just off the pace.

Wasserman will be a long shot. The 8-year-old has one victory in his past 10 starts, beating four rivals to take the restricted Muckleshoot Tribal Classic last September. He was a distant eighth in the Seattle Handicap in his last start. Owned and trained by Howard Belvoir, he needs to finish in the top four to surpass Captain Condo's record of $503,285 earned at Washington racetracks.

Others in the field are Yankee Bravo, 10th in the 2008 Preakness but winless in more than two years; recent allowance winner Rooster City; Elusive Schemes; and Gallon.