Laurel Race Report: Heat of the Day

Laurel Race Report: Heat of the Day
Photo: AP/ NYRA/ Adam Coglianese
Xtra Heat, shown winning Belmont Park's Prioress.
By Paul Deblinger
Published in the Feb. 23 issue of The Blood-Horse
The Maryland Jockey Club has been taking all kinds of extra heat from legislators, the Maryland Racing Commission, and horsemen's groups lately, but they didn't mind the kind of extra heat they got Feb. 16 with the 49th running of the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap (gr. II).

A convergence of warm weather, a National Thoroughbred Racing Association mystery mutuel voucher mailing, and the appearance of 4-year-old sprinting sensation Xtra Heat brought 11,933 fans to Laurel Park (and another 3,758 fans at Pimlico). The fact Xtra Heat was saddled with 128 pounds for the seven-furlong test, 12 to 16 more than her seven distaff rivals, added to the excitement.

Her impost sparked the kind of debate one would expect whenever a horse spots rivals so much. Xtra Heat, after all, had won nine of 13 starts in 2001, concluding her season with a close second behind Squirtle Squirt in the Penske Auto Centers Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) and a third to Delaware Township and Early Flyer in the Frank J. De Frances Memorial Dash Stakes (gr. I) at Laurel.

Xtra Heat's trainer John Salzman admitted feeling the pressure of the impost and the distance. Prior to the Fritchie, Xtra Heat had lost her last two tries at seven furlongs. "I was worried about the weight. The only thing they didn't put on her is that awning over there," Salzman said, motioning toward the temporary scaffolding protecting the throng on Laurel's apron from continuing problems with the grandstand's glass.

The anxiety Salzman felt lasted just one minute and 22.70 seconds. Breaking from post two, the 7-10 favorite popped out of the gate on top under jockey Harry Vega and settled comfortably on the rail. "Of course I was worried about the weight," Vega said. "You don't want to go too fast."

Separated from graded stakes winner Gold Mover by 1 1/2 lengths, Vega got what he wished for, guiding the fleet filly along the rail through fractions of :22.90 and :45.56.

Turning for home, Prized Stamp and Kimbralata jockeyed for position behind Xtra Heat, but Vega wasn't about to give up the rail, especially over a surface that had been kind to front runners along the inside all day. "It was the smart thing to do," said Vega. "You don't want to give up the rail, especially against a rider as good as Travis (Dunkelberger) who knows this track like the back of his hand." Xtra Heat increased her margin to four lengths in the stretch, getting the six-furlong split in 1:09.71.

Dunkelberger tried his best in the stretch, but 2001 Barbara Fritchie winner Prized Stamp was no match for Xtra Heat, finishing 2 3/4 lengths back and a neck in front of Kimbralata. "Both of our horses ran well," said trainer Dale Capuano, who trains both Prized Stamp and Kimbralata. "Xtra Heat is the best filly in the country and one of the best three sprinters, so we couldn't be happier finishing second and third in a graded stakes race."

Xtra Heat earned $120,000 for her Fritchie win, moving her career earnings to $1,443,305 and her 2002 record to two-for-two. With 19 wins in 24 starts, the daughter of Dixieland Heat will make her next start March 23 in the $2-million Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I), a six-furlong dirt sprint on the Dubai World Cup undercard. In that race, Salzman won't have to worry about the weight. Xtra Heat will get a 4.4 pound (2 kg.) weight break against her male rivals.

By now almost everyone knows the Xtra Heat story; that trainer Salzman bought her for $5,000, then sold shares in her to a group headed by Kenneth Taylor and Harry Deitchman.

Taylor was effusive in his praise for Salzman, especially when asked if their prize filly deserved a break. "How can you criticize the man who paid $5,000 for her?" said Taylor. "If she lost 19 of 24, then you could criticize."

With a long flight to the Middle East on tap, Taylor's confidence in his filly is apparent. In an Ali-like rhyme, he neatly wrapped up the day, "I'm afraid to fly, but for Heat I'll go to Dubai."

(Chart, Equibase)

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