02/20/2003 1:00AM

Mud may dampen Xtra Heat

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Last weekend's snowstorms that forced the postponement of the two biggest stakes of the winter meet at Laurel Park are long gone. But Mother Nature could act like a gremlin again for Saturday's three-stakes program, highlighted by the rescheduled $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap.

Although the temperature is supposed to be in the 50's, the forecast also calls for the likelihood of rain, which means the eight fillies and mares in the Grade 2, seven-furlong Fritchie may have to deal with mud.

The 11-race card also includes a revised lineup for the Grade 2, $200,000 General George for older male sprinters, and the $75,000 Maryland Racing Media Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares.

The horse who might dislike a muddy track the most also is the biggest name on the entire program. Xtra Heat has run twice over off tracks in her career, including a second-place finish in the mud at Aqueduct in December, but trainer John Salzman said she much prefers a fast surface.

"She has showed signs that she doesn't really like a wet track, but we are planning on running," said Salzman, noting that the bad weather has disrupted Xtra Heat's training routine.

Salzman said Xtra Heat had galloped on Wednesday "and had a jock on her around the shed for three of the four days we missed because of the snow. It has been 16 days since she worked, and normally we would have worked her again, but it's getting too close to the race."

A victory in the Fritchie would give Xtra Heat, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2001, her 25th stakes win.

The Fritchie shapes up as a showdown between Xtra Heat and Carson Hollow. The two horses will break next to each other, Xtra Heat from post 2 and Carson Hollow from post 3.

A two-time graded stakes winner as a 3-year-old last season, Carson Hollow will be making her first start since she finished last of 13 in last fall's Breeders' Cup Sprint. Carson Hollow won the Grade 1 Prioress at Belmont last year, but her best race may have been her second-place finish in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga. She was beaten a nose by You after setting a fast pace in the seven-furlong race.

Carson Hollow, who has won her only start on a wet track, breezed three furlongs Wednesday at Laurel in 37.20 seconds. Kent Desormeaux, coming in from California to ride D'wildcat in the General George, has picked up the mount.

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