Very Subtle. Safely Kept. Desert Stormer. Could Xtra Heat be next? Yes, her Sept. 29 Sweet and Sassy Stakes win was in a four-horse field in a non-graded stakes at Delaware Park. Forget all that. Xtra Heat can run. She is a contender for the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I).
Of course, that is if trainer and co-owner John Salzman decides to run the 4-year-old Dixieland Heat filly. Let's face it, like most years, the Sprint is coming up tough. Salzman has a real decision to make. But, as mentioned above, three fillies have won the Sprint in the race's 17-year history. Xtra Heat ran her record to nine wins in 11 starts this year and won the Sweet and Sassy by 11 1/2 lengths. She also became racing's newest millionaire.
The purse from the Sweet and Sassy raised her lifetime earnings to $1,026,150. It should be noted that both of Xtra Heat's losses this year were at seven furlongs; the Breeders' Cup Sprint is a six-furlong heat. Salzman purchased Xtra Heat for just $5,000 as a 2-year-old. He owns her in partnership with Harry Deitchman and Kenneth Taylor.
The big race everyone has been waiting for looms large this weekend. Kona Gold, the reigning Sprint champ, returns to the races at Santa Anita in the $200,000 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. I). Trained by co-owner Bruce Headley, Kona Gold is unbeaten in three starts in 2001, most recently winning the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) in a thrilling match up with Caller One. The 7-year-old gelded son of Java Gold is co-owned by Irwin Molasky, his son, Andrew, and Michael Singh.
The latest National Thoroughbred Racing Association poll released Oct. 1-ranking the top 10 Thoroughbreds in training has Kona Gold on top, a spot he took over several weeks earlier with the retirement of Point Given and the loss by Tiznow in the Woodward Stakes (gr. I). There are 11 horses nominated to the Ancient Title, the most likely adversaries for Kona Gold to include Lexicon and Freespool.
James Chapman, who trains Caller One, has decided to train him up to the Sprint. That means he will have 14 weeks between races, his last start being the July 22 Bing Crosby.
El Corredor had an excellent work at Santa Anita on Sept. 26, going four furlongs in 47 flat, but trainer Bob Baffert is worried about getting Hal Earnhardt's horse into the race. "He might not have enough points," Baffert said. If a race is oversubscribed-14 starters is the maximum---the first eight are selected based on points earned in graded stakes races. The remaining entrants are ranked in order of preference by the Breeders' Cup field selection panel. El Corredor may not have the points, and may be shortening up in distance, but with wins this year in the seven- furlong Pat O'Brien Handicap (gr. II) and one-mile Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II)--his only two starts in 2001--one would have to think the panel would give him serious consideration.
Keeneland opens Oct. 5 and runs six Breeders' Cup prep races its first weekend. One is a prep for the Sprint, the six-furlong $250,000 Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) on Oct. 6. Bet on Sunshine, who finished third by just a length in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, is set to run in the Phoenix. Bet On Sunshine is a sentimental favorite among Kentucky racing fans. He is now a 9-year-old who has been carefully trained throughout his career for owner David Holloway by Paul McGee. McGee, who is based at Churchill Downs, has sent out Bet on Sunshine to win half of his 40 lifetime starts and finish worse than third only five times. The son of Bet Big has made just three starts in 2001, won his last two, and appears to be rounding into top form again at the right time of the year.
The final Sprint prep in New York this weekend is the Forest Hills Handicap, a grade II event worth $250,000.