Kenneth Taylor's Xtra Heat had won 13 of 15 starts entering Wednesday's Fourth of July feature at Belmont Park And, being 6-for-6 at six furlongs, it figured that the holiday crowd of 19,273 would make her their favorite for the featured Prioress.For all of her success, however, the Dixieland Heat filly had never won a grade 1 race. Nor had her trainer, John Salzman.Fortunately for them both, Wednesday's 54th running of the $200,000 Prioress for three-year-old fillies at six furlongs was given Grade 1 status this year. And Xtra Heat simply helped herself.Under jockey Rick Wilson, Xtra Heat took back just off Above Perfection, out-ran the five other challengers and then wore down the leader in the lane for a neck victory in 1:08 1/5.The win not only further establishes Xtra Heat's credentials, but makes her a strong player in the grade 1, $250,000 Test at Saratoga on Saturday, July 28th. A victory there would mean a $200,000 bonus from Keeneland for sweeping the Beaumont and Test. "The last time she raced in that race at Pimlico, I talked to Rick (Wilson) about taking her back," Salzman said. "I was thinking about that again today, but then I told Rick to ride her the way he wanted to - and he took hold of her."With some of the best members of the division is the field, Xtra Heat managed to break from the early scramble. The first quarter went in :21 4/5 and the half in :44 3/5, but Xtra Heat had secured a path in the middle of the track, while Above Perfection took to the rail."This was a great field," Salzman said. "Nobody got a breather; every horse had to run hard from the start. I felt better with her on the outside, because from there, it's easier to keep an eye on the inside horse. This is the first grade 1 I've ever won, and it is a good feeling. This horse has run 16 times and won 14 times. I guess her not being sold is one of the best things that ever happened to me. If she comes out well, we plan to run her in the Test." Wilson was elated by the effort of Xtra Heat, who returned $5.70 to win."She gave me everything she had today," Wilson said. "She was running hard from the start. She broke so fast that I could have gone to the lead, but I decided to take a hold of her. I was surprised with how well she relaxed. Experience played a big part in this win. She knows what this game is about. She's just an amazing race horse."Scott Chaney, assistant to trainer Darrell Vienna, beamed over the performance of runner-up Above Perfection."She ran great today," he said. "The winner was just too good. We thought she was the real deal and why not try her against the best in the country. I think we were right. We have no immediate plans, but if she runs in the Test, she'll probably stay in New York."
Although six lengths back in third, Harmony Lodge also pleased trainer Todd Pletcher."I'm very happy with my horse's race," he said. "You never strive for third, but against a Grade 1 field like this, you can't be too disappointed. Jerry (Bailey) said her hind end slipped a little at the start. That may have cost her a little bit. It's a special filly that won, and this field has a tremendous collective record. If I'm pleased with how she comes out of it, we'll try the Teat next."Stormy Pick, Shooting Party, Astrapi and Cat Chat trailed.