The last time Xtra Heat appeared publicly at Laurel Park, she put her sweet face into a congratulatory basket of carrots and other goodies in the winner's circle on Xtra Heat Day. Fans joined in the celebration Dec. 22 as the Maryland Jockey Club honored the diminutive filly for outstanding achievement in 2001.
As a 3-year-old last year, Xtra Heat won nine of 13 races. She never finished off the board, claiming second three times and third once.
That stellar year, particularly her runner-up performance in the Breeders' Cup Sprint against males, earned Xtra Heat the rare distinction of being an Eclipse Award finalist in two categories: 3-year-old filly and sprinter.
The Eclipse statuettes will be awarded Monday during a black-tie banquet in Miami Beach. Yet today, the 4-year-old Xtra Heat can't rest on her laurels as she faces as many as 10 fillies and mares in the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap, a Grade II stakes of seven furlongs.
The Fritchie is the first of three significant stakes this weekend at Laurel Park.
The $100,000 John B. Campbell Handicap tomorrow also drew 11 entrants. On Monday, the $200,000 General George Handicap - the male counterpart to the Fritchie - attracted eight sprinters, including Affirmed Success, an 8-year-old gelding from New York who has earned $1.8 million.
But Xtra Heat is the headliner. She will carry 128 pounds, from 12 to 16 more than her competitors. That weight spread prompted her trainer, Laurel-based John Salzman, to consider skipping the race.
"With that much weight going seven-eighths [of a mile], that's a lot of pressure on her," said Salzman, who owns Xtra Heat with fellow Marylanders Kenneth Taylor and Harry Deitchman. "If you don't think it is, get a 10-pound bag of potatoes and try to run two blocks with it."
Xtra Heat, who lost the last two times she attempted seven furlongs, faces double duty today: Capture the Fritchie's winning purse for her owners and gain fitness for her next assignment. That will be the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen, a six-furlong sprint March 23 on the undercard of the Dubai World Cup.
Salzman plans on flying to Dubaia week from tomorrow, his willing filly in tow.