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Showdown looms in Governor’s Handicap, Jebrica assumes the role of underdog

May 18, 2012     E-mail this page to a friend!

As it should, the much-anticipated face-off between Harbor the Gold geldings Noosa Beach and Hollywood Harbor has dominated the newswire leading up to Sunday’s $50,000 Governor’s Handicap for older horses.

The 6-½-furlong Governor’s Handicap—the eighth race on an 11-race card—is the first stop and only sprint stakes for older horses en route to the $200,000 Longacres Mile (G3) on August 19.

For the past two years, Jeff Harwood’s Noosa Beach has controlled the handicap division at Emerald Downs. The two-time defending Horse of the Meeting is the track’s all-time leader in stakes wins and has nine victories in his last 11 stakes appearances. The now 6-year-old Noosa Beach has been off since finishing second to Awesome Gem in the 2011 Longacres Mile, but trainer Doris Harwood said she’s confident he’ll be ready to roll come Sunday.

“He’s been training great in the mornings and coming back wild,” she said. “I don’t need to say too much, I’ll let his racing do all the talking.”

Although Noosa Beach will likely be favored in the Governor’s, Hollywood Harbor has a few angles that might help dethrone the defending champ. First and foremost, the 2009 Top 3-Year-Old holds a fitness edge over Noosa Beach, after running the world’s fastest 5-½ furlongs in 1:00.87 in an April 22 allowance race. Second, Noosa Beach has lost this race once before. In fact, his second-place effort to Assessment in the 2010 Governor’s Handicap is his only loss to a local horse since Sept. 2009. Trainer Chris Stenslie said she knows full well that Noosa Beach remains the horse to beat.

“Noosa Beach is a really nice horse,” said Stenslie, also part owner of Hollywood Harbor with Jody Peetz of One Horse Will Do Corp. “Until somebody beats him, he’s the top horse. Hopefully, (Hollywood Harbor) can be the one to do it.”

Another possibility to overthrow Noosa Beach is Jebrica, whose 2¾-length victory in the 2011 Emerald Derby earned him the meet’s highest Beyer Speed Figure of 98 and Top 3-Year-Old honors. The victory also gave owners Ron and Rosalie Warren their first ever stakes win. A 4-year-old out of 2011 Top Broodmare Peaceful Wings, Jebrica continued his red-hot campaign last year at Hastings Racecourse, where he finished second in the BC Derby (G3) and then won the 1-3/8-mile BC Premier Handicap over stakes-winning older horses Winning Machine and Assessment. Now, Jebrica makes his 2012 debut at Emerald Downs, where Hall of Fame conditioner Jim Penney said the Liberty Gold gelding has been training well for Sunday’s race.

“He’s training pretty good right now,” Penney said. “He’s a little more mature this year than he was last year.”

According to the work tab, Jebrica has trained better than good. On Monday, the 4-year-old gelding breezed six furlongs in 1:101, which was faster than a half-dozen six-furlong races the day before. Only his stablemate Class Included went quicker when she won the Hastings Handicap for older fillies in 1:09.17, but under a stiff drive.

The field for the 73rd running of the Governor’s Handicap: Hollywood Harbor, Jose Zunino, 118 lbs; Winning Machine, Javier Matias, 116; Couldabenthewhisky, Gallyn Mitchell, 117; Noosa Beach, Leslie Mawing, 122; Jebrica, William Antongeorgi, 118.

Wasserman returns Sunday in sixth race

Although the return of Noosa Beach will garner most of the headlines, the track’s all-time leading earner also returns Sunday as Wasserman makes his first start of 2012. The now 10-year-old gelding is among nine horses entered for a $25,000/$22,500 claiming price in the sixth race at six furlongs.

“He feels great, he thinks he’s a 2-year-old some days,” said Wasserman’s regular rider Jennifer Whitaker. “He’s ready, he’s still very playful, but he’s professional.”

A Washington-bred by Cahill Road, Wasserman has complied an 11-13-10 record in 65 career starts with earnings of $564,808. The 2008 Longacres Mile winner has earned $540,741 at Emerald Downs.

Wasserman could be in tough Sunday, however. Advancement, Kooky Saluki and Rainier Missile are all recent winners, while Emancipated has finished second and third in a pair of starts versus Wasserman’s sharp stablemate Cat On Base. The race also includes 2011 Longaces Mile consolation winner Davos, the exceptionally fast Newfound Gold and 2010 Seattle Slew Handicap winner Newfound Man.