06/22/2010 11:00PM

Wet spring had combined effect on track


AUBURN, Wash. - Summer came to the Pacific Northwest on Monday, leaving behind a spring dominated by gray skies, stormy weather, and, at Emerald Downs, rain-soaked racetracks.

Of the 157 races staged during the past five weeks, an even 100, or 63.7 percent, were contested on tracks labeled good, wet-fast, or, most often, sloppy.

The wet weather has affected training schedules, particularly for 2-year-olds. About 350 registered 2-year-olds were on the grounds entering this week, but only seven races for juveniles had been run during the first 36 days of the meeting, down from 13 at a similar juncture in 2009.

Dana Halvorson, a bloodstock agent who manages a string of horses at Emerald Downs, said the weather has played a role in the dearth of 2-year-old races, but other factors are at work, too.

"There are a couple of problems with 2-year-olds," Halvorson said. "One, there's not any great incentive to start them real early -- if you win, you've got no place to go -- and two, you want the best track to train them on. Our attitude has been, we're going to wait until the track is fast."

Emerald's racing surface consists mostly of sand. Wet sand hardens quickly while doing very little to absorb impact, leaving 2-year-olds vulnerable to bucked shins and other ailments.

"Hard surfaces are hard on shins," Halvorson said. "You want some cushion."

The weather has dampened ontrack attendance, too. Memorial Day was wet, and it rained most of the day last Sunday, which was Father's Day, traditionally one of the busiest days of the year. According to Adrian Buchan, the Emerald Downs director of marketing, a crowd anticipated to be about 9,000 shrunk to perhaps 6,000 because of the conditions.

"The weather affects attendance, no question," he said. "People plan to come out, and then they wake up and see this and they change their plans."

Handicappers have been prey to the wet stuff, too. The racing strip has been uneven, with the inside paths deep and tiring on some days, firm and fast on others. When the track came up sloppy on June 6, for example, the 10 races were won by horses breaking from posts 1, 1, 2, 4, 2, 2, 1, 5, 1 and 5. The rail was accommodating -- the outside paths, not so much.

Some horses run better on wet surfaces than others, but trying to pinpoint offtrack breeding influences can be tricky, Halvorson said. The sand may be wet, but it's not mud.

"I don't think breeding is quite as pertinent here as other places because of the type of surface we have," he said. "If you have clay, or dirt like we used to have at Longacres, once you got an off track, it was really off. Here, the rain actually tightens the track up. It's not quite the same."

"At some of the Eastern tracks that have a lot of clay content, or at the old Santa Anita, for example, the results would be more apt to be influenced by offtrack breeding. In the old days at Longacres, horses by sires like Strong Ruler and Prince o'Morn would move up a lot on an off track."

Speed dominated at Longacres when the track was sloppy. Front-runners are a little less formidable when the track is labeled sloppy at Emerald.

"I still think speed is an advantage in the slop because you're throwing water and dirt at horses behind you," Halvorson said. "But it doesn't get deep here at all. We don't even have a category for muddy, heavy, or slow, and you rarely see a track labeled good."

The rain abated Monday and the sun peeked out Tuesday as temperature climbed into the upper 70s, but there's a 30 to 40 percent chance of rain this weekend. After that, who knows?

"It's the wettest meeting on record," trainer Dan Kenney said Sunday from a dry perch in the Turf Club. "The Farmers' Almanac says we're going to have the rainiest summer in 20 years."

Noosa Beach hits high note

Noosa Beach was assigned a Beyer Speed Figure of 97 for his 9 1/4-length victory Sunday in the Budweiser Handicap, the highest Beyer at Emerald Downs this season. A 4-year-old by Harbor the Gold, Noosa Beach ran one mile on a sloppy track in 1:35, two seconds off Sky Jack's track record.

In his previous start May 16, Noosa Beach earned a 95 Beyer Figure for running six furlongs in 1:07, tying Atta Boy Roy's track record, on a day when the surface was extraordinarily fast. In his first start of the year, April 18, he was assigned a 90 Beyer for his victory in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race.

The third-highest Beyer at the meeting belongs to Peaceful Reign, who is scheduled to run Friday in the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Championship at Prairie Meadows. He earned a 94 Beyer for his victory in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race May 2.