04/24/2003 12:00AM

Hopes high as Xtra Heat enters breeding shed

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - A strange and unaccustomed quiet has settled on John Salzman's barn, because the Heat is gone. Champion filly Xtra Heat has shipped from Salzman's training barn to her owners' ClassicStar Farm in Kentucky. Now she will try to pass on to her foals the speed and gameness she showed at the racetrack.

"She's been sent home to be bred," Salzman said, adding that she left his barn April 17.

She is passing from the excitement and activity of racing life to the pastoral calm of Bluegrass farms.

"She arrived on Friday, looking like 1.5 million dollars," said Jon Freston, racing manager of ClassicStar. "John sent her to us in fabulous condition, sound and happy. She travels really well and as soon as she got off the van, she started eating grass. She is right at home."

A 5-year-old daughter of Dixieland Heat and Begin, by Hatchet Man, Xtra Heat has gained many fans for racing with her rags-to-riches story and her determination to win. A winner of 26 of 35 starts, Xtra Heat kept exceeding expectations throughout her racing career. She won 25 stakes and earned $2,389,635 in four seasons of racing.

ClassicStar purchased Xtra Heat last fall, shortly after she had gone unsold at the Fasig-Tipton November mixed sale.

"We didn't necessarily buy her to race, but with the time of year and her condition, it was easy enough to race her," Freston said.

Indeed, ClassicStar had success with the purchase. Xtra Heat won two of three starts for ClassicStar, including the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie, and then traveled to compete against top international sprinters in the Dubai Golden Shaheen last month. One of the attractions in sending her to Dubai was that with a win she would have set the North American record for earnings by a filly or mare.

Unfortunately, a minor mishap prevented her from racing, and Xtra Heat returned from Dubai only with extra miles on her flight log.

"What happened in Dubai wasn't career-threatening," Freston said. "If it had happened a few days earlier, she probably could have made the race. It was reported that she was cast, but it looks like she put her fetlock in something, maybe a feeder. There was some minor soft-tissue damage, but she's in great shape now.

"It is likely she's raced for the last time, but not because she couldn't race some more. There's really nothing more for her to prove on the track."

Xtra Heat's trainer agreed. "They bought her to breed her, and I think it's the right thing to do," Salzman said. "She's tried hard and done about all she could do as a racehorse. It's been a pleasure having her."

In addition to the loss of his stable star, Salzman sold his most promising young filly, the Sir Cat juvenile Run Cat Run. An impressive winner of a 4 1/2-furlong race at Pimlico in her debut, Run Cat Run was bought by Team Valor, Salzman said, and is being sent to John Terranove in New York.

Run Cat Run is expected to move on to stakes competition in the near future. Likewise, Xtra Heat was a competitive racehorse from the first, and now she has come full circle, with the goal of producing more quick runners.

Freston praised the mare's condition. "She arrived with big dapples on her, and I wouldn't be surprised to have her cycle quickly and get in foal right away," he said.

At this point, of course, the most pressing question for the owners of Xtra Heat is selecting the first mate for their star.

"Storm Cat was the first choice, but there was nothing available to him at this time of year," Freston said. "Aside from that, the stallion hasn't been chosen yet, but there's been a lot of active discussion. Lot of ways to go with her genetically, and a good deal of discussion has been asking what you want her foal to look like. Do you want it to look like her or not - to make it appeal to the high-end commercial buyers - because we're market breeders and that's our goal."

The consideration being given to the prospective foal's conformation is not rhetorical. Many people, especially Xtra Heat's fans, might say: "Get all the foals you can who look like her. She was tough and she was fast."

But when she was an unproven filly in the sales ring, Xtra Heat was rejected as a physical specimen. From three trips through the ring as a youngster, she sold for $9,100 as a weanling, $4,700 as a yearling, and $5,000 as a 2-year-old in training. So the advisers to ClassicStar consider that the commercial possibilities, conformation, and physical proportions will play a significant role in their choice of a stallion this year and over the next few years.

In the search for Xtra Heat's mate, the many factors and calculations may or may not matter. As Freston said, "Whichever way we go, I believe in Xtra Heat as a broodmare. She kept surprising everyone in her racing career, and I think she'll be a success at this, too."