Updated on 09/15/2011 1:20PM

The filly that keeps on giving


ELMONT, N.Y. - How do you take $5,000 and parlay it into $1,041,150? Ask the owners of Xtra Heat, the remarkable filly who on Saturday will try to join three other fillies who have won the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.

John Salzman Sr., Harry Deitchman, and Kenneth Taylor bought Xtra Heat for $5,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training at Timonium in May 2000. Since then, the Kentucky-bred daughter of Dixieland Heat has won 17 of 20 starts, and surpassed

$1 million in earnings by winning the Sweet and Sassy Stakes at Delaware Park on Sept. 29 in her last start.

In the Sweet and Sassy, which Xtra Heat won by 11 1/2 lengths over a grossly overmatched field, she earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 121, tops among 3-year-olds of either sex this year. Xtra Heat's Beyer is higher than the best of several of her Sprint rivals. Among those who have earned a higher Beyer Figure are Kona Gold, who received a 123 when he finished second in the 1999 Sprint, and Swept Overboard, who received a 122 in this year's Ancient Title.

How does a filly who barely stands 15 hands tall and was sold three times at auction before she even made it to the races end up a Sprint contender in a field full of incredibly fast colts and geldings?

Jockey Rick Wilson, who has ridden her in the majority of her starts, said, "Her heart. She's all heart. She's not all that big, but she wants to run."

Unfortunately, Wilson broke a leg in a spill at Pimlico Race Course earlier this month and won't be able to ride Xtra Heat on Saturday. He has been replaced by Jorge Chavez.

Salzman, who also trains Xtra Heat, is a frequent buyer at the Midlantic auction from which she was purchased. He said he didn't even look at Xtra Heat before the sale and only glanced at her pedigree page when Xtra Heat - a bay filly with a white star smack in the middle of her forehead - was led into the ring.

"I was looking for a horse who could run quick in cheap 2-year-old races and she fit the bill - and then filled it up a little more than we expected," Salzman said.

Four weeks after buying Xtra Heat, Salzman entered her in a $25,000 claimer at Laurel. Despite getting off to a slow start, Xtra Heat stormed through the stretch for a neck win. Since that race, Xtra Heat has raced exclusively in stakes.

Salzman has judiciously picked his spots with her. The only time Xtra Heat was stretched out in distance was in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, in which she finished 10th.

Critics have bashed Xtra Heat's record by saying her wins have come against inferior company. But that's not entirely true. Xtra Heat has ventured outside of her Laurel Park base on several occasions and defeated fields in New York and Kentucky, including wins this year in the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont and the Grade 2 Beaumont at Keeneland. She earned her first graded victory last year at Belmont, defeating Gold Mover in the Grade 2 Astarita.

Xtra Heat finally began to get respect when she won the Prioress over a good field on July 4. Xtra Heat was pressed through wickedly fast fractions of 21.91 seconds and 44.63, and prevailed by a neck to win the six-furlong race in 1:08.26, a stakes record.

She followed her win in the Prioress with a gutsy second in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga. She dueled through ridiculously fast fractions of 21.51 seconds and 44, and, not surprisingly, was fatigued in the final furlong of the seven-furlong race. Since the Test, Xtra Heat has reeled off three consecutive wins in stakes at Delaware Park and Pimlico, where she towered over her competition.

"I tried to pick her spots to keep her record clean, and lot of those spots came in perfect," Salzman said. "Instead of working her, I ran her in a soft spot.

"But I wasn't really ducking anybody. I don't know of any filly who could beat my filly at three-quarters. Do you?"

The Breeders' Cup will be Xtra Heat's first start against males and she figures to face intense pace pressure from some exceptionally fast sprinters, such as Caller One, Five Star Day, and Squirtle Squirt. In Xtra Heat's favor is the solid record fillies have enjoyed in the Sprint, and the fact she is 10 for 10 at the Sprint's six-furlong distance.

"It's a tough race, but somebody has got to win," Salzman said. "Kona Gold is a nice horse, but he's getting old and maybe it's time for him to get beat. She's 10 for 10 [at the distance] and has won two races at Belmont, and there's not that many chances to run in $1 million races."

Salzman, 56, has been training horses for 40 years, mainly in Maryland. His first job on the track was when he was 11, as a hotwalker for his brother-in-law Tex Anderson.

Until Xtra Heat came along, Salzman's best runners included Noble Home, who finished second in the 1983 Jim Beam, and Lord of the Bay, the winner of the 1992 Laurel Futurity.

There have been several offers made to Salzman and his partners to buy Xtra Heat, but they fell through. One of those offers, which came last year, was withdrawn when a vet detected OCD lesions in both of Xtra Heat's stifles.

"I wouldn't have known they were there if they hadn't told me," Salzman said. "They never bothered her and to this day she is perfectly sound."

Salzman, who lives on a farm in Sykesville, Md., with his wife of nearly 40 years, Nancy, said his life hasn't changed significantly since Xtra Heat became a part of it. But Salzman did acknowledge that it's easier to get out of bed in the morning when his alarm clock rings.

"It hasn't changed my career," said Salzman, who trains 26 horses at Laurel. "I picked up one owner with 12 horses, but I don't know if it was because of Xtra Heat. But it didn't hurt any.

"But I'll tell you, it's enjoyable to get up in the mornings. This is what you dream about."