Before an international audience on racing's richest stage, Xtra Heat will attempt to become the leading earner among fillies and mares in North America when she races tomorrow in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in the United Arab Emirates.
The $1.2 million winner's share of the Golden Shaheen purse, the world's richest for a sprint, would catapult Xtra Heat past Spain on the female earnings' roster. Spain, winner of the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff in 2000 and runner-up in 2001, retired with a bankroll of $3,540,542. An Xtra Heat victory would inflate her earnings to $3,589,635.
That would be the second record set by the Laurel-based mare in as many races. By winning the Barbara Fritchie Handicap last month at Laurel, Xtra Heat, 5, set a record for stakes wins - 25 - by a North American filly or mare.
John Salzman, trainer and former owner of Xtra Heat, said yesterday from Dubai that "everything's perfect" regarding safety from the war and preparations for the horse. The battle in Baghdad rages 860 miles away.
"As far as the war is concerned, there is no concern," Salzman said. "Nobody here is scared of anything."
As for Xtra Heat, "she's doing fine," he said. "She's got a hell of a shot if everything goes good and she runs her race."
Xtra Heat, the likely favorite, and her jockey Rick Wilson will break from Post 1 in the 13-horse field. The six-furlong race is on the straightaway, not around a turn as in this country. Xtra Heat finished third in last year's race.
Pimlico, Laurel Park and other betting outlets in Maryland will broadcast and accept betting on the Golden Shaheen and three other races from Dubai. The seven-race program, run at night in the Middle East, is the richest day of racing in the world. The $6 million Dubai World Cup heads the stakes worth $15.25 million.
The Maryland outlets will show the Dubai Sheema Classic at 10:30 a.m., the Dubai Golden Shaheen at 11:10 a.m., the Dubai Duty Free at 11:50 a.m. and the Dubai World Cup at 12:40 p.m. The first race at Laurel will take place at 12:50 p.m. Gates open at 9:30 a.m., and admission is free for fan-appreciation day.
In the Dubai World Cup, Harlan's Holiday carries the U.S. banner in hopes of becoming the fourth U.S. horse to win the world's richest race in eight runnings. Cigar captured the first edition in 1996 after a thrilling stretch battle with Soul of the Matter.
Salzman said Xtra Heat's inside post shouldn't be a problem. She should break fast enough that Wilson can guide her outside or keep her on the rail, whichever he chooses, Salzman said. She will carry 126 pounds, while the males will carry 130. That's an advantage for her as well, Salzman said.
Xtra Heat is one of four U.S. horses in the Golden Shaheen, and the other three probably will be her main competition. The California speedsters Avanzado and Captain Squire will break from Posts 2 and 11, respectively. My Cousin Matt, recent winner of the General George Handicap at Laurel, will break from post 9 under the Maryland jockey Ramon Dominguez.
David Plummer, whose Classic Star Stable bought Xtra Heat for $1.5 million last fall from Salzman and his two partners, is in Dubai and has conferred with Salzman about the mare's future. Salzman said Plummer plans to continue racing her this year and maybe even next year, as long as she remains sounds.
"If she misses a beat, they'll breed her," Salzman said, adding that the sire of choice would be Storm Cat.