Updated on 09/16/2011 8:22AM

BC Countdown - Sprint: Xtra Heat preps vs. the boys in Phoenix


The prospective starting lineup for the 2002 Breeders' Cup Sprint should come into focus by the end of the weekend after the running of three key prep races: the Grade 3 Phoenix Breeders' Cup at Keeneland, Grade 1 Ancient Title Handicap at Santa Anita, and Grade 2 Forest Hills Handicap at Belmont Park.

Xtra Heat, runner-up in the 2001 Sprint, is headed to Kentucky for the Phoenix where the competition may include division leader Orientate. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas remained undecided about Orientate's status for the Phoenix, although he continues to lean toward skipping the race and training his horse up to the Breeders' Cup.

"He's doing awfully good and tearing the barn down," Lukas said of Orientate. "We don't need to run him in the Phoenix. Being a sprinter, I can carry him to the Breeders' Cup without a problem. We'll look at the weather and the field and then make a decision. If the track is wet he definitely would not run."

John Salzman, who has trained Xtra Heat to 23 victories in 30 career starts and an Eclipse Award last season, said he wants to get another race into his filly before the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 26. "I really wasn't thinking about running against the boys but when I realized this race was run under allowance conditions and she'd get in under 123 pounds, I thought it was the best spot," said Salzman.

Salzman said he believes Xtra Heat is as good now as she was a year ago, when she set the pace before losing by a half-length to Squirtle Squirt in the Sprint.

"I know she hasn't beaten anything in her last two races, but that's good because the easier races have left a little gas in the tank," said Salzman. "She'll have to run a little harder on Saturday, but that's okay because it should set her up perfectly for the Breeders' Cup."

The Ancient Title will feature the return of Swept Overboard, who has not started since winning the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap on May 27. Swept Overboard finished a fast-closing fourth, just a half-length behind Xtra Heat, in the 2001 Sprint.

Crafty C.T., third after contesting a torrid pace in the Metropolitan, could earn himself a spot in the Sprint with a big showing in the Ancient Title.

Kona Gold and Disturbingthepeace, two of the West Coast's other leading candidates for the Sprint, will bypass the Ancient Title and train up to the Breeders' Cup.

Sunday's six-furlong Forest Hills could feature defending Breeders' Cup Sprint champion Squirtle Squirt. The pending sale to Japanese interests that would end his racing career has yet to be finalized.

"I probably won't know anything until Friday," said his trainer, Bobby Frankel. "So for the time being I'm training him as if he's going to run in the Forest Hills and the Breeders' Cup."

Among those who could run in the Sprint with a big effort in the Forest Hills are Avanzado and True Direction. Avanzado, an Argentine-bred, has won both his starts in this country. True Direction returned from a minor injury and won a third-level allowance on Sept. 19 in his first start since finishing third to Sprint candidate Gygistar in the Riva Ridge Stakes on Belmont Day.