Under a thick blanket of fog Saturday, Xtra Heat captured a record 25th career stakes victory in the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap (gr. II) on a sloppy track at Laurel Park.
The seven-furlong heat figured to be a battle between Xtra Heat and Carson Hollow. But after Carson Hollow, with Kent Desormeaux riding, dueled for the early lead in an opening quarter-mile of :22 4/5, Xtra Heat was able to fight her way to the front through a half-mile in :45 2/5 and cleared off to establish a commanding lead in the stretch. Jockey Rick Wilson eased the favorite home by 1 3/4 length over Carson Hollow in a final time of 1:24.76. Spelling was third.
Trainer John Salzman was concerned about how his 5-year-old mare would respond to the off track after she was beaten on a muddy Aqueduct surface in December. But he was committed to run her after waiting a week for the weather to clear well enough to run the Fritchie, which was originally scheduled Feb. 15.
"I didn't have any trouble around the track," Wilson said. "John (trainer Salzman) was a little ticked off that we didn't make the lead, and he had told me earlier in the week that if I didn't make the lead he was going to kick my butt. I wanted Kent to think that I was getting in to her at the three-eighth pole so that he would move with me, but once we got in front, I was sure we were a winner."
Desormeaux said Carson Hollow struggled to handle the course dwon the backstretch.
"A hundred yards into the turn Rick seemed to be going for the lead which shocked me, because I didn't think he would try to move that early and I didn't want to let him go," he said. "He got me today, but I still think my horse is the best and was the classiest horse in the race."
With the victory in the Fritchie, Xtra Heat became the all-time leading female stakes winner. The 2001 Eclipse Award winner as top 3-year-old filly was tied with Susan's Girl with 24 added money victories.
"She is game and she proved how good she was today," Salzman said. "That other filly had never been outrun except for the day she was sick at the Breeders' Cup. She deserves this record. You look at her and she is truly amazing."
The daughter of Dixieland Heat, now victorious in 26 of 35 career starts, picked up $120,000 for owner Classic Star Stable. She has career earnings of $2,389,635.
Xtra Heat paid $4, $2.60 and $2.10. Carson Hollow returned $3 and $2.10. Spelling paid $2.10 to show. The $2 exacta was $12.20.
In the race before the Fritchie, My Cousin Matt bolted to the front in the stretch to capture the General George Handicap (gr. II) by three lengths over Peeping Tom in a time of 1:22.12 for seven furlongs on a sloppy track.
With Ramon Dominguez aboard, the son of Matty G. raced off the pace established by 5-2 favorite D'wildcat and Disturbingthepeace through fractions of :22 2/5 and :46 1/5 before launching his run near the top of the stretch and quickly gaining control.
"I was staying back, about three or four lengths off the pace," Domiguez said." My horse is very versatile, so I wasn't too concerned about my position. At the half he passed the two horses inside of him. Then he just took off. He really exploded on the turn and it was over after that."
My Cousin Matt rebounded from a sixth-place showing in the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita on Dec. 26. Owned by Richard Englander and trained by Scott Lake, the 4-year-old gelding won for the seventh time in 21 starts while collecting $120,000. His career bankroll now stands at $479,079.
"Rick Englander, who owns him, thinks he's the best sprinter in the country," said Lake. "I think he has a little to prove yet but this moves him in the right direction."
Sent off at 4-1, My Cousin Matt paid $10, $5.60 and $4.40. Peeping Tom, with Mario Pino riding, returned $7.60 and $5.60. Disturbingthepeace and Ryan Fogelsonger held on for third, 1 1/4 length behind Peeping Tom, paying $3.80 to show. The $2 exacta was $66.80.
D'wildcat, ridden by Desormeaux, faded to ninth.
"When the gate opened I was two in front and standing up in the saddle," he said. "I thought they were going to give it to me at that point but unfortunately that was all he had today."