They're all in the books now. All the prep races for the Breeders' Cup Sprint have been sprinted, and the field for the six-furlong contest is coming into focus. Actually, the trio of grades sprints run last weekend didn't bring forth a whole lot of new blood. They reinforced, in fact, just one thing: The filly Xtra Heat is the one they'll have to defeat to take home the glory.
Midway through the Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland Oct. 5, Xtra Heat was hooked by Touch Tone, a speedy 4-year-old coming in fresh off a 13-month layoff. Touch Tone has always been a speedy sort, and where he faced off with Xtra Heat, the filly picked up the gauntlet and left him in her rearview mirror in no time, ultimately cruising home to a three-length victory over Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. III) victor Day Trader in 1:10.13.
Xtra Heat broke well, a prerequisite for success in the Sprint, and did everything right in beating all the boys for the first time. When she finished ahead of a dozen boys in last year's Sprint, the notion that she couldn't beat boys was pretty much laid to rest, but now it's official. The knock on this ultra-consistent filly is her attendance in relatively minor stakes for much of the year. Again, her performance a year ago at Belmont Park should render that null and void. She is going to be tough to beat, and has the advantage of fitness and form over most of her leading contenders, who will be coming into the Sprint off layoffs of two and three months. She takes over the top spot with less than three weeks to go.
One of the other two sprint preps last weekend didn't proved pivotal. Kalookan Queen, Bruce Headley's classy mare, was the best in the Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita Oct. 5. Headley had no intention of sending her to Chicago for the Breeders' Cup, but apparently owner Luis Asistio does. Thus, Headley will send a pair of hopefuls into the Sprint, the other being 2000 champion Kona Gold, who last raced at the beginning of July and last won at the start of June. If you like a closer in the Sprint, however, wouldn't you prefer Disturbingthepeace, who defeated Kona by nearly seven lengths in July?
The Ancient Title was also significant for the disappointing run of Swept Overboard, who finished fourth, beaten more than three lengths. Swept Overboard had clear sailing down the stretch and didn't fire. Nevertheless, trainer Craig Dollase said he will ship to Arlington for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Over in New York, the Forest Hills Handicap (gr. II) Oct. 6 didn't produce any likely runners for Arlington. Avanzado, a promising Argentinean, won the heat, but is not Breeders' Cup nominated and is pointing toward a trip to Hong Kong instead. You have to go all the way to Europe to find a new shooter, Continent, who took the five furlong Prix de L'Abbaye de Longchamp-Majestic Barriere (Fr-I) by a nose over Slap Shot Oct. 6. The son of Lake Coniston is a dual group I winner who could make the trip for the Sprint.
Finally, the sale of Squirtle Squirt became official last week, and he'll be heading to Japan instead of Chicago, meaning the Sprint will have a new winner in 2002.
At this point, the field could include: Bonapaw, Boston Common, Carson Hollow, Continent, Crafty C. T., Day Trader, Disturbingthepeace, D'wildcat, Gygistar, Kalookan Queen, Kona Gold, Malhub, Orientate, Swept Overboard, and Xtra Heat. It certainly looks like Orientate and Xtra Heat will battle it out for favoritism as well as the early lead in the race.
1) XTRA HEAT John Salzman Sr. Harry Deitchman, Ken Taylor, John Salzman Sr.
2) ORIENTATE D. Wayne Lukas Bob and Beverly Lewis
3) GYGISTAR Mark Hennig Edward P. Evans
4) BONAPAW Norman Miller III James and Dennis Richard
5) DISTURBINGTHEPEACE Darrell Vienna David and Rita Milch