Updated on 09/15/2011 1:27PM

Dash with lots on the line

Joseph DiOrio/Horsephotos
The De Francis has drawn a strong field, including Kona Gold.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Reputations tarnished, California sprinters Kona Gold, Caller One, and Early Flyer flew 3,000 miles Tuesday to seek redemption Saturday in - of all places - Maryland.

Saturday afternoon, hometown heroine Xtra Heat will walk out of her Laurel stall to stake her claim as the best 3-year-old filly of 2001. Championships, like misplaced car keys, often are found the last place one looks, and the Grade 1 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash may provide a fitting conclusion for Xtra Heat. That, or satisfactory reparations for Kona Gold, Caller One, and comebacker Early Flyer.

A field of seven is taking shape for one of the season's most appealing six-furlong sprints, and by the time the De Francis is run Saturday at Laurel, the question is, will anyone still remember the name of the horse who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint?

"If we're going to base the Eclipse Award [for champion sprinter] on one race, we might as well change the name of the award," said J. David Rollinson, stakes coordinator for the Maryland Jockey Club. He has a point. Laurel rolled the dice this year by changing the date of the De Francis from its standard date in July to mid-November. Based on the strength of the probable field, the gamble has worked.

Along with Xtra Heat and the California trio, the race will attract New York shipper Delaware Township, Texas shipper Boots on Sunday, and local runner Sassy Hound. Beyond the $300,000 purse, there is more at stake. Noted Rollinson: "The Eclipse Award is up for grabs."

Except for voters who may already have awarded the Eclipse to Squirtle Squirt, whose only win against older was the Breeders' Cup, the De Francis should carry an impact. A win by Kona Gold would end his season with four graded stakes wins to counter his seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup. Caller One finished third in the Breeders' Cup; Delaware Township finished eighth. Early Flyer will be racing for the first time since upsetting Squirtle Squirt on May 28 at Hollywood Park.

Then there is Xtra Heat. Whether or not she has a legitimate claim as champion sprinter, she would be sufficiently qualified to be named 3-year-old filly champion. Runner-up in the BC Sprint, Xtra Heat enters the De Francis with nine wins and three seconds in 12 starts. Her triumphs include a Grade 1, a Grade 2, and two Grade 3's. A win in the De Francis would be her second Grade 1. Can a filly sprinter win an Eclipse that typically favors long-distance runners?

"According to all the write-ups, she can't," trainer John Salzman admitted Tuesday. "But she's done everything she can do. Some horses sprint, some horses go long. Some horses are made to go short, some are made to go long. She sprints."

And how. Xtra Heat's runner-up finish in the BC Sprint - into the teeth of a bias that compromised horses racing closest to the rail - ranks as one of the most impressive performances of the Breeders' Cup card. On Saturday, she gets an eight-pound weight break from the older California runners. That, and a home-field advantage.

"She's training just as good now as she did [before the Breeders' Cup]," Salzman said. "And she doesn't have to ship very far. She can walk right across the street. I can't think of any excuse."