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Reed Palmer/Emerald Downs Photo: Noosa Beach (center) defends his Longacres Mile championship on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011.
Reed Palmer/Emerald Downs Photo: Noosa Beach (center) defends his Longacres Mile championship on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2011.

This year's Longacres Mile (post time 5:53 Pacific; TV: TVG, CSNW) features one of the most dominant Washington-breds to ever race in the Pacific Northwest, against a horse that comes into the Mile with the highest career earnings in its 76-year history.  Nossa Beach, a Washington-bred son of Harbor the Gold out of a Basket Weave mare (Julia Rose), has won seven consecutive races and 10 of his last 11.  He is the defending Longacres Mile champion, reigning Washington Horse of the Year, and is seeking to become just the third horse to win back-to-back Miles.

Awesome Gem, an eight-year-old son of Awesome Again, is a graded stakes winner on both dirt and synthetics, as well as graded staked placed on turf. Over his 45-race career, Awesome Gem has earned nearly $2.6 million, including almost $300,000 in 2011, highlighted by his win in the G3-Lone Star Park Handicap on May 30th. Awesome Gem will be making his 2nd start in the Longacres Mile; he finished 2nd to Assessment in 2009.

The critical part of this race, especially for Noosa Beach, will be the first quarter mile.  With the start/finish line near the first turn at Emerald Downs, Noosa Beach has little room for error if he is to avoid being caught wide early.  The wide draw (post 11) is a hinderance in terms of positioning for the first turn, but it also allow jockey Galyn Mitchell to track the speed to his inside.  

On the inside of the two favorites are ten horses, most of which prefer to show speed in the early stages.

1-Posse Power rarely displays a ton of gate speed unless on the grass.  He's never been out front early in a race at Emerald Downs. [No Speed]

2-Assessment likes to talk the early speed and should be expected to go right to the front as soon as the gate opens. [Speed]

3-St. Liams Halo has shown good speed in all his races at Hastings Park. [Speed]

4-Honour the Deputy prefers to do his running from the middle or the back of the pack. [No Speed]

5-Saratoga Boot  has shown speed in prior runs at Emerald Downs but usually going to try and come from off the pace.  He might try and go early, but I'm not sure that will give him a very good chance to win. [Likely No Speed]

6-Winning Machine only lost by a 1/2 length to Noosa Beach when attempting to go gate-to-wire in the Mt. Rainier Handicap on July 24th.  He should be expected to be up front again on Sunday. [Speed]

7-J P Jammer has run all but two of his races on turf or synthetic surfaces.  He showed speed in both of his races on conventional dirt. [Speed]

8-Wasserman's running style ranges from mid-pack to closer.  [No Speed]

9-Slew the Man likes to run up front early. [Speed]

10-Crew Leader displayed a good turn of early foot in his last race up at Hastings but he's had a lot of races where he's sat 3+ lengths back early.   Given the draw, I would expect to see Crew Leader take back just a bit at the start. [Toss Up]

Ten horses sit inside Noosa Beach in the starting gate, and five of them (maybe six) are likely to be pressing for the lead heading into the first turn.  That's a good amount of pace, and it likely means that Noosa Beach will have to be content to sit anywhere from 3rd to 5th going into the first turn.  If he can keep from hanging five-wide, then he'll be in good shape for the rest of the race.

In most of his two-turn races, Noosa Beach sits right up and on the lead, with the exception of the Bud Handicap on June 19th where he was 3 1/2 lengths back in the early going.  In that race, Noosa was slow to leave the gate and had no choice but to settle in a bit further back than he was used to. The fact that he was able to adapt to that situation and still win by open lengths (3 1/2 at the wire over Winning Machine and Saratoga Boot) suggests that Noosa can handle a variety of racing scenarios.

Awesome Gem, while drawing the horrid 12-hole, isn't at a huge disadvantage. Jockey David Flores should have plenty of time to steer his mount over towards the rail to a position where he'll likely sit six or more lengths behind the leaders for the first three-quarterss of the race.  The prime question for Awesome Gem is whether he'll have enough time to make up ground on Noosa Beach once he hits the top of the stretch.

While the presence of an abundance of early speed should theoretically set things up for the closers, it's tough to go against a horse that has been so dominate at Emerald Downs over the last two years.  He's beaten many of the horses in this race on multiple occasions.  Now he needs to prove he can hold off an old warrior like Awesome Gem in the final quarter of a mile.

If either of the top two should falter, I would take a stab with the lightly raced but quickly developing Crew Leader for the upset (or to round out the trifecta).

The weather in Seattle this past week has been sunny and dry and the Thursday night card at Emerald Downs saw a mix of horses winning from both on and off the lead; the track appears to be fair at this point.

The Field:

PP Horse Jockey Trainer ML
1 Posse Power R. Baze F. Lucarelli 15/1
2 Assessment J. Gutierrez H. Belvoir 15/1
3 St. Liams Halo M. Gutierrez M. Puhich 10/1
4 Honour the Deputy K. Krigger J. Hollendorfer 12/1
5 Saratoga Boot J. Crispin T. McCanna 20/1
6 Winning Machine L. Mawing F. Lucarelli 12/1
7 J P Jammer P. Terrero K. Seal 15/1
8 Wasserman J. Whitaker H. Belvoir 30/1
9 Slew the Man F. Alvarado J. Bonde 8/1
10 Crew Leader C. Hoverson D. Condilenios 10/1
11 Noosa Beach G. Mitchell D. Harwood 2/1
12 Awesome Gem D. Flores C. Dollase 5/2