Sprint Preview (9/12): Turn Up the Heat

The queen of the sprint division, Xtra Heat, did nothing to hurt her chances for a return crack at the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) with a devastating five-length score in the $150,000 Endine Stakes (gr. III) at Delaware Park Sept. 7. The 4-year-old daughter of Dixieland Heat led all the way, stopping the clock in 1:10.91. Last year's game runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Sprint has now won an incredible 23 of 29 starts. Trainer and co-owner John Salzman Sr. said after the Endine he is leaning toward going straight to the Breeders' Cup with his star.

As spectacular as Xtra Heat has performed, she likely would not be the betting favorite if the Sprint were run today. That role would belong to Orientate, who is carrying a snappy four-race winning streak since being turned back in distance by trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Most impressive was his last effort, the Sept. 1 Forego Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga. The son of Mt. Livermore was hooked early by defending Breeders' Cup champ Squirtle Squirt and dueled through fractions of :21.45 and :44.36. Orientate shrugged off his competition and pulled clear by better than two lengths to cover the 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:15.68.

"I think he clearly established himself as the best sprinter in the country," Lukas said. Orientate will start in either the Sept. 21 Vosburgh (gr. I) at Belmont or the Oct. 5 Phoenix Breeders' Cup (gr. III) at Keeneland, unless Lukas decides to train him up to the big day.

Speaking of doing nothing wrong, Gygistar is only five-for-five this year, including four stakes wins, three of them graded. The 3-year-old gelding towered over seven other runners to conquer the King's Bishop (gr. I) at Saratoga Aug. 24, winning by three lengths in the slop. That is something to remember should Chicago turn wet the last Saturday in October. Gygistar has also conquered the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) and the Riva Ridge Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) in his current streak for trainer Mark Hennig.

Squirtle Squirt came out of the Forego, his first contest in seven months, in fine shape, according to conditioner Bobby Frankel, who expects the son of Marquetry to move up quite a bit off that effort, in which he eyeballed Orientate before fading to fourth. The defending champ will have one more warm-up before the Breeders' Cup, in either the Vosburgh (seven furlongs, Sept. 21) or the Forest Hills Handicap (gr. II, six furlongs, Oct. 6).

Frankel also has Aldebaran, a late-running son of Mr. Prospector who finished an impressive second to Orientate in the Forego. If he gets a hot pace to close into, this will be a dangerous player in the Sprint. Look for Aldebaran to reappear in the Vosburgh.

On the West Coast, the 2000 Breeders' Cup Sprint champion is laying in the weeds. Kona Gold is 8-years-old now and not as consistent as in his salad days, but could still make himself known in the Big Show. Well-beaten in the Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) in July, Kona Gold continues to train forwardly, ripping off five furlongs in :57 and change at Del Mar recently. His last victory came in the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) in June at Hollywood Park. If trainer Bruce Headley decides Kona Gold needs one prep, it will come in the Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Oak Tree at Santa Anita Oct. 5. He is more likely to train up to the Breeders' Cup.

The hottest sprinter out west is Disturbingthepeace, who has a streak of three consecutive grade II wins to his credit, including the Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien Handicaps at Del Mar. The 4-year-old Bold Badgett gelding is conditioned by Darrell Vienna, who expressed his willingness to train him up to the Breeders' Cup. Vienna brought Gilded Time back off a one-year layoff to finish third in the 1993 Sprint, less than a length from the winner.