03/06/2003 12:00AM

Laurel: Makin Heat packs punch

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Makin Heat has yet to race as a 3-year-old. But she has already run more times and accomplished far more than any of the other six fillies in Saturday's $50,000 Wide Country at Laurel Park.

In 11 starts as a 2-year-old, Makin Heat finished first or second nine times, including stakes wins at Laurel and Delaware. Her credentials make her the obvious horse to beat in the 1 1/16-mile Wide Country.

Early in her career, however, Makin Heat didn't look like she would amount to much. It took her four starts to win a maiden race. Trainer John Robb and owner Mike Gill claimed Makin Heat for $35,000 out of a maiden race and immediately jumped her in class to a minor stakes race, where she finished second.

Her only out-of-the money finishes since coming into Robb's barn have been in a failed experiment on turf and a trip to Florida for the $100,000 Three Ring at Calder.

The two sharpest rivals Makin Heat faces in the Wide Country are Grace Bay and Powers Prospect, both of whom are returning following impressive victories.

Grace Bay was beaten nearly 19 lengths by Makin Heat in last fall's Selima, but perhaps that clunker can be disregarded because it came over a sloppy track. Grace Bay's two most recent races, both routes, were solid. She finished second in the nine-furlong Maryland Juvenile Championship and then overcame a three-wide trip to draw off from first-level allowance competition.

Powers Prospect ships in from Philadelphia Park, where she trounced preliminary allowance foes by 6 1/4 lengths, earning a 78 Beyer.

The sleeper could be Recherche. Although she is based at Laurel with trainer Tony Dutrow, Recherche made her first two starts in New York, winning her career debut in a sprint by 6 1/2 lengths and then finishing second after setting the pace in a two-turn allowance race.

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