The road to the $200,000 Longacres Mile, Grade 3, makes its final stop Sunday, July 24 with the $50,000 Mt. Rainier Handicap for 3-year-olds and up at Emerald Downs.
Defending champion Noosa Beach is among seven older handicap runners nominated to the Mt. Rainier, which has been shortened in distance from a mile and one-eighth to a mile and one-sixteenth for the 2011 running.
Undefeated in three starts this season—two stakes wins at Emerald Downs and one at Hastings Racecourse—Noosa Beach is tied with Handy N Bold for most stakes wins in track history at 10 apiece, including a 3-½ length victory in the June 19 Budweiser Handicap. Carrying a record 125 lbs., the 5-year-old Harbor the Gold gelding overcame a slow, awkward start to win going away in 1:38.09 on a wet/fast track.
Owned by Jeff Harwood and trained by Doris Harwood, Noosa Beach is rapidly climbing the ranks among the state’s all-time greats. The defending Longacres Mile champion, Noosa Beach is 13-3-2 in 19 career starts, with earnings of $453,222. At Emerald Downs, Noosa Beach is 12-3-1 in 17 starts and has earned $394,055.
Moreover, Noosa Beach has won five straight races—all stakes—at Emerald Downs by margins of 3-½, 1, 2-¾, 1-½ and 4-½ lengths, and distances ranging 6-½ furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. In the 2010 Mt. Rainier Handicap, Noosa Beach notched a 4-½-length victory that set him up perfectly for the subsequent Mile victory.
Assessment, the 2009 Mt. Rainier winner and the only horse to beat Noosa Beach in the last two seasons, attempts to make amends for a fifth-place finish in the Budweiser. The 2009 Longacres Mile winner, Assessment is No. 2 all-time in earnings at Emerald Downs with $413,505.
St Liams Halo, the top older horse at Hastings Racecourse where he’s three-for-three this season with two stakes wins, could make his Emerald Downs debut in the Mt. Rainier. However, the Florida-bred was entered in the July 17 S.W. Randall Plate at Hastings and probably won’t be seen locally until the Aug. 21 Longacres Mile.
Winning Machine, Top 3-Year-old of 2009 and runner-up in the Budweiser, attempts to defeat his former stable mate Noosa Beach in the Mt. Rainier.
Saratoga Boot won the 2010 Emerald Derby and is rounding into form for trainer Tim McCanna. Davos comes off a fourth in the Budweiser Handicap, and Aaron the Baron is the least experienced nominee with just three career starts.
Mt. Rainier Handicap—3-year-olds & up-16th Running
Nominee Owner Trainer
Aaron The Baron (4-WA) Elttaes Stable Doris Harwood
Assessment (7-KY) Tice Ranch Stables Howard Belvoir
Davos (6-KY) Ron Crockett Inc. Junior Coffey
Noosa Beach (5-WA) Jeff Harwood Doris Harwood
Saratoga Boot (4-ARK) Gary Hughes Tim McCanna
St Liams Halo (4-FLA) Glen Todd & Patrick Kinsella Michael Puhich
Winning Machine (5-KY) Fleur De Lis Stables Frank Lucarelli