Fritchie fog no sweat for Xtra Heat

Md. mare's 25th stakes win sets record for females

February 23, 2003|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Xtra Heat emerged from the fog in the Barbara Fritchie Handicap yesterday at Laurel Park with her feet planted firmly in the lead and the record book.

The Maryland mare captured the fog-shrouded Fritchie by 1 3/4 lengths for her 25th stakes victory, the most by a filly or mare in North America. As she pranced into the paddock after the race for the winner's presentation, fans clapped and hollered for one of the winningest, most consistent and most admired horses they will ever see.

"I'm happy for her," said John Salzman, Xtra Heat's trainer and former owner. "She deserves it. She tries hard every time."

From the humblest of beginnings - a $5,000 price tag as a 2-year-old - Xtra Heat, 5, has won 26 of 35 races and earned $2,389,635. Her 25 wins in stakes races surpassed the great Susan's Girl, a three-time champion in the 1970s who won 24 stakes.

Xtra Heat had to overcome six opponents, missed training and a muddy track - rated "sloppy" - to set the record. She raced seven furlongs (seven-eighths of a mile) to do it, but it was difficult to see any of it.

A dense fog obscured the track for most of the race. Spectators couldn't see the break in the far corner of the backstretch. Only by watching the TV monitors could fans see parts of the race - a few strides down the backstretch where Carson Hollow led Xtra Heat, and a slice of the turn where Xtra Heat surged into the lead and began pulling away.

Fans held their breath waiting for horses to emerge from the foggy stretch. When they did, it was Xtra Heat leading the procession. She led comfortably but began to loaf. Her jockey, Rick Wilson, flicked her with his whip, and she pinned her ears for the final, weary strides to the wire.

According to the track's automated timer, Xtra Heat ran the final eighth of a mile in an almost unbelievably slow 14.15 seconds. Her final time of 1 minute, 24.76 seconds was 2.64 seconds slower than My Cousin Matt's winning time in the General George Handicap, the race before the Barbara Fritchie.

The twin $200,000, Grade II stakes - the Fritchie for females, the George for males - were rescheduled from last weekend after the record-setting snowstorm forced cancellation of three days of racing. Horses missed training and entered the races in unknown stages of fitness.

Xtra Heat paid $4 to win. The exacta with Carson Hollow returned $12.20, and the trifecta, with Spelling third, paid $37.

Breaking into the Fritchie fog, Wilson said Xtra Heat, the even-money favorite, bolted to the lead out of the gate. Then, he said, the speedy Carson Hollow, the 9-5 second choice, rushed up on the inside and secured the lead.

Carson Hollow led Xtra Heat by a half-length down the backstretch. Approaching the far turn, Xtra Heat accelerated and easily ran by Carson Hollow.

"That horse was done," Wilson said of Carson Hollow, flown up from Florida for the race.

She wasn't quite. She faltered around the turn but battled back in the stretch to reclaim second under her California jockey, Kent Desormeaux. Richard Dutrow Jr., Carson Hollow's trainer, had said beforehand that if his filly ran her race, then everyone else, including Xtra Heat, was running for second.

After the race in the paddock - the makeshift winner's circle because of the rain - a gloating Salzman, Xtra Heat's trainer, marched up to Dutrow, stuck out his hand and said: "Your horse ran good, but you were running for second only."

Dutrow didn't respond. After the winner's presentation, Salzman was asked whether Dutrow's pre-race boast had angered him. "It did tick me off," he said. "Who's running for second? It's my turn to mouth off."

The next assignment for Xtra Heat is the $2 million Golden Shaheen on March 29 in Dubai in the Middle East. She ran third last year in the six-furlong race, the richest sprint in the world. Wilson, her jockey, likes her chances.

"She's getting better with age," he said. "Maybe the best is yet to come."

NOTES: Like the fog that obscured the Barbara Fritchie, Xtra Heat's record-setting performance obscured the General George. However, My Cousin Matt registered a three-length victory that signaled his entree into the country's elite class of sprinters.

Ridden by Ramon Dominguez and trained by Scott Lake, the 4-year-old gelding won for the third time in five starts for his owner, Richard Englander, a two-time Eclipse Award winner as the country's top owner.

Englander claimed My Cousin Matt out of a race at Belmont Park in September for $85,000.

"Englander deserves a lot of credit for this horse," Lake said. "When he claimed him, he said he might be the top sprinter in the country."

Englander wanted to run My Cousin Matt in the Breeders' Cup Sprint in October, but illness kept the horse out of the race. Englander did not attend the General George, but Lake was asked whether the Breeders' Cup was the goal this year.

"I don't think it's out of the question," Lake said. "He beat an outstanding field today, and he did it impressively."

My Cousin Matt paid $10 to win as the bettors' third choice. The exacta with Peeping Tom paid $66.80. The trifecta, with Disturbingthepeace third, returned $311.60, and the $1 superfecta, with long shot American Century fourth, paid $3,911.40.

The 4-year-old filly Pupil, a daughter of Unbridled, cruised to a three-length triumph in the $75,000 Maryland Racing Media Handicap, the first of three stakes on the Laurel card.

For Pupil's trainer, Philadelphia-based John Servis, it was the sixth straight win in a stakes race. The streak ended two races later when the Servis-trained Zonk finished fourth in the Barbara Fritchie.

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