The forces were pulling at Kenneth Taylor for months. There were certainly more enticing options than wandering halfway around the world, especially for a guy reluctant to air travel. But when you own the fastest filly on the planet, no obstacle is too great to hurdle.
"I wasn't coming. I don't like to fly," Taylor admitted. "I would have rather stayed home and watched it on TV personally. But I've never missed her running."
For the past two years, Taylor's devotion to a single horse, his prized lass Xtra Heat, has led him throughout much of the eastern United States. Now, the 49-year-old finds himself on the Arabian Gulf, riding a wind of anticipation into richest racing event on earth, the Dubai World Cup, where Saturday night, Xtra Heat will be carrying the hopes of the home team in the $2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) at Nad Al Sheba.
The challenge is grand, for the daughter of Dixieland Heat will confront a world-class field that features Brazilian sensation Cacique Bar, local hope Conroy, and Caller One, last year's victor. Very little, though, seems to stop her. Once a $5,000 bargain, Xtra Heat has spun one of great tales in recent American racing, winning over $1.4-million and a whopping 18 stakes races. Last year, her durability and flair earned her an Eclipse Award as the nation's leading 3-year-old filly - - despite a schedule consisting solely of sprints.
"She's got nothing else to prove. Nothing," observed Taylor, who owns Xtra Heat along with Harry Deitchman and trainer John Salzman. "There's nothing else she can do. When she won the Eclipse Award, that was probably it. What we get from here is just gravy."
Her sensational run through 2001 naturally incubated the idea for a crack at the six-furlong Golden Shaheen, the world's most valuable sprint. Taylor conceded, however, that Xtra Heat first needed to prove she could take her game to the highest level. The Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) last fall was the acid test.
"The only thing we thought is that if she ran bad in the Breeders' Cup, she wasn't coming," he said. "That was the main thing. If she could run against the boys, then we figured we could come here and run against anybody."
Still, the grueling trip to the Middle East sometimes takes it toll on young horses. So far, though, Xtra Heat has given Taylor, Deitchman, and Salzman all the right vibes, and win or lose, the Golden Shaheen was an opportunity too golden to let slip.
"She will be tough. Real tough, 'cause she's as good as she ever was right now," Taylor explained. "You've got to come over here and try. Whether she can come out here and pull it off, who knows? This is a tough field of horses. They've got the best sprinters in the world. And she's a girl, too."
On Saturday night, though, Xtra Heat could be a queen.