In a perfect world, jockey Ricky Frazier would be riding Noosa Beach this year at Auburn’s Emerald Downs, adding to two of the most illustrious careers in Northwest racing.
But alas, in horse racing, things seldom go perfectly, and injuries shortened the careers of each. The two were honored Wednesday night in a retirement ceremony at Emerald Downs in front of a huge crowd on the annual Fireworks Night.
Frazier, 48, has never fully recovered from a severe concussion he suffered in a spill in Fresno, Calif., in October 2010, just two months after riding Noosa Beach to a victory in the Longacres Mile, the Northwest’s most prestigious horse race.
For a couple of years, Frazier hoped doctors would clear him to ride again, but he continues to have problems with equilibrium and gets headaches and memory loss when he is too active.
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“The doctors have told me for a while that I was done, but I had trouble accepting it,” said Frazier, who won 72 stakes at Emerald, second behind Gallyn Mitchell’s 76.
Frazier overcame a shattered ankle and more broken bones than he can remember, including a fractured skull, to win five riding titles in seven years at Emerald beginning in 2004. So Frazier, who won 3,469 races in his career, thought he would beat this as well.
“It’s going to be hard and emotional, because I really miss riding,” Frazier said before the ceremony. “But it will be nice to retire with Noosa. As it turns out, he was the last champion I rode and the Mile we won was the last big race that I won.”
For Noosa Beach, 2010 was the middle of a more than two-year stretch where he was the king of Northwest racing. It was no wonder he was nicknamed “Elvis” in the barn of trainer Doris Harwood, who trained the horse for husband Jeff.
Noosa Beach won an Emerald-record 11 stakes races, including six in a row. He was Emerald’s Horse of the Meeting in 2010 and 2011. After one race last year, Noosa Beach was bruised when he reared up in the gate before the Budweiser Handicap on June 17, 2012. He was scratched from the race and was off the rest of the year.
Noosa Beach, a 7-year-old gelding, was slated to return this year, but after a minor ankle injury, the Harwoods decided to retire their star.
“He made us so proud, for two years to dominate like he did,” Doris Harwood said a couple of days before the ceremony. “I am going to be crying. It will be sad, but I am happy for him. He has so much life left.”
Noosa Beach will be sent on loan to the Lewis County farm of Britt Roden, a friend of the Harwoods. Another former Harwood trainee, Margo’s Gift, is at the farm and excels in eventing.
“They will see how Noosa does. But I will tell you this, he is very smart and obviously very athletic,” Doris Harwood said. “The great thing is he will be around people. He loves people.”
Frazier is happy about Noosa Beach’s new life. Frazier’s new passion is helping the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, which seeks to find homes for all retired racehorses.
“The thing about this state is that the horsemen really care about their horses, and they do the right thing,” Frazier said, listing well-known trainers, including Harwood, Jim Penney and Tim McCanna. “Horses are family to them. ”