It's all in a day's work for Xtra Heat

Filly shrugs off weight, distance, takes Fritchie for 19th win in 24 starts

Horse Racing

February 17, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Extra weight and extra distance were no extra burden for Xtra Heat yesterday in the Grade II, $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap at Laurel Park .

While carrying 128 pounds for the first time and running a distance over which she had been beaten twice in succession, the sensational filly romped to a 2 3/4 -length victory, her 19th in 24 career starts.

It was an impressive step for the 4-year-old daughter of Dixieland Heat, who will make her next start in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen on the undercard of the Dubai World Cup, March 23.

"I'd love to win in Dubai," said Kenneth Taylor, one of the filly's three owners. "But it's an extra. This horse has done everything possible known to mankind. She hasn't regressed one bit. They don't come along often like her. She's the greatest thing that ever happened to any of us."

The connections have a bit of business in Florida tomorrow night before heading across the Atlantic. Xtra Heat is a finalist in two Eclipse Award categories-outstanding 3-year-old filly and sprinter.

She got off to a head start for a 2002 Eclipse by dominating a solid field in the Fritchie, setting a carefully measured pace and never finding a serious challenge.

Prized Stamp, another local runner and the defending Fritchie champ, was second at 8-to-1 odds, setting up a $14.40 exacta payoff with the 3-to-5 favorite. Another long shot also trained by Dale Capuano, Kimbralata, finished a neck behind Prized Stamp and contributed to a $59 trifecta.

On a February day blessed with extra heat, the crowd at Laurel reached 11,933, with another 3,758 attending the simulcast at Pimlico. Several hundred fans gathered outside the winner's circle to applaud the victorious filly.

Trainer John Salzman Sr., expressed concern before the race about both the weight - she spotted her rivals 12 to 16 pounds each - and the distance.`The only thing they didn't put on her is that awning over there," Salzman joked in the winner's circle.

At seven furlongs, Xtra Heat had been beaten by Victory Ride in the Grade I Test at Saratoga last July and by Cat Chat in the Grade II Nassau County last May.

But when yesterday's race unfolded, the worries proved unfounded. Xtra Heat broke sharply from the two post, seized command on what was a live path along the rail all day, and easily resisted all challengers.

"I wanted to nurse her along for five-sixteenths and control the speed from the rail," said winning jockey Harry Vega, who guided Xtra Heat through splits of 22 4/5, 45 2/5 and 1:09 3/5. "We had to have something left in the end because seven furlongs is a stretch."

Gold Mover mounted the first threat, getting within 1 1/2 lengths after a half mile, then fell back. Xtra Heat widened her margin to four lengths in the middle of the stretch and easily fended off the closers.

The winning time was 1:22 3/5, actually three-fifths of a second slower than P Day ran in winning the previous race. Xtra Heat has now bankrolled $1,443,305.

Travis Dunkelberger - aboard the runner-up - saluted Vega for his ride. "Harry did a great job of shutting the rail and controlling the tempo," Dunkelberger said. "It changed the whole complexion of the race because I wanted the lead."

Xtra Heat's connections constantly field questions from the media about when she will be rested, but Taylor fielded them with aplomb yesterday.

"You can't question the man [Salzman]," Taylor said. "He bought a $5,000 horse that has won a million and a half. That says it all."

Also yesterday, track oddsmaker Frank Carulli made New York shipper Coyote Lakes a slight overnight favorite in today's $100,000 John B. Handicap.

Eleven have drawn in to the ungraded Campbell for older horses, including the well-regarded Saratoga Games from the Tony Dutrow stable and the Michael Petro-trained entry of Lyracist and Mister Eight.

The Campbell - at 1 1/8 miles - has been run at various distances since 1954 and has been won by the likes of Kelso, Broad Brush and Little Bold John.

Other horses to watch include Private Ryan, winner of five straight - the last three at Laurel - and Top Official, who took last year's Campbell, only to be disqualified to third.

NOTE: A crash in the main totalizator system prevented patrons from wagering on yesterday's final race and all bets were refunded.

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