For Xtra Heat, once is still not enough heading into Dash

Maryland filly must fend off same rivals from Breeders'

Horse Racing

November 15, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Xtra Heat beat them once. If she's ever going to earn their respect, she's going to have to beat them again.

She'll have her chance Saturday in the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park. Xtra Heat, the Maryland filly who finished second in the Breeders' Cup Sprint Oct. 27 at Belmont Park, will tangle again with three males who chased her in that race: Caller One, Delaware Township and Kona Gold.

The post-position draw yesterday for the six-furlong De Francis Dash practically ensures a repeat strategy employed in the Sprint. Xtra Heat will break to the front from post No. 2, and the rest of the field will try to catch her.

Caller One, a speedster from Hollywood Park, pursued Xtra Heat in the Breeders' Cup and finished a strong third. Kona Gold, the champion sprinter of 2000 from Santa Anita Park, charged from far back as the favorite in the Sprint and finished seventh, four lengths behind the winner.

The Laurel oddsmaker predicts that bettors will support Kona Gold to turn the tables on Xtra Heat. Kona Gold is 3-2 in the morning line. Xtra Heat is 2-1, followed by Caller One at 7-2.

Squirtle Squirt, winner of the Sprint, will skip the De Francis Dash. But Xtra Heat and the California duo - not to mention the four other formidable entrants - make the Grade I De Francis Dash one of the toughest and most significant races of the year.

"The horses coming from California are the best in the country." said John Salzman, the Laurel-based trainer of Xtra Heat. "I'm sure they're going to know that she's pretty sudden from that gate. They're not going to throw their hands up in the air and let her go."

Based on his win in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint, the California-based Squirtle Squirt is the leading contender for the Eclipse Award as North America's outstanding sprinter. But a victory by Xtra Heat, especially, or Kona Gold or even Caller One could place them in position to overtake Squirtle Squirt in the year-end voting.

The De Francis Dash highlights Laurel's Fall Festival of Racing (six stakes, giveaways and children's activities), a new event built around the Dash's inaugural running in the fall. The first 11 Dashes took place in summer.

This year, Lou Raffetto Jr., chief operating officer of the Maryland Jockey Club, rescheduled the race three weeks after the Breeders' Cup. He hoped to lure Breeders' Cup horses and, he said, even harbored "faint hope" that the sprint championship would be on the line.

"It couldn't have worked out better," Raffetto said.

DeFrancis Dash

What: Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash

Where: Laurel Park

When: Saturday

Purse: $300,000

Distance: Six furlongs

Post time: 4:06 p.m.

Status: One of three Grade I stakes in Maryland

At stake: Eclipse Award as North America's top sprinter

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