08/15/2001 11:00PM

For now, Xtra Heat will duck tough foes


It was a rare loss for Xtra Heat, but her performance in last month's Grade 1 Test at Saratoga was one of her grittiest.

Xtra Heat was pushed through eye-popping fractions of 21.51 seconds and 44.00 in the seven-furlong Test by Harmony Lodge, who staggered home seventh while Xtra Heat battled on bravely to finish second behind Victory Ride. Xtra Heat's 3 1/4-length loss was only her third in 17 career starts.

Saturday at Pimlico, Xtra Heat looks to get back in the winner's circle in the $125,000 Straight Deal Handicap Breeders' Cup, a six-furlong handicap for fillies and mares.

The Straight Deal, part of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Championship series, is Xtra Heat's first race against older horses, and she must carry 120 pounds, conceding five to eight pounds to her six rivals. Despite those factors, it's hard to knock Xtra Heat, who is undefeated in seven starts at the distance.

Trainer and co-owner John Salzman, who is based at Laurel Park, said he considered sending Xtra Heat back to Saratoga for the Grade 1 Ballerina at seven furlongs on Aug. 26 but decided to stay home for an easier spot.

"If this race hadn't gone, I would have run in the Ballerina," Salzman said. "But I thought I would run at Pimlico and then in a $150,000 race at Delaware [Grade 3 Endine on Sept. 8], rather than run against those tough horses. It made sense to me."

Should Xtra Heat run well in her next two starts, Salzman said he would consider the Breeders' Cup Sprint for his filly on Oct. 27 at Belmont Park, where she won the Grade 1 Prioress in July.

"There's a lot ifs, ands, and buts, but the Breeders' Cup is in the back of our minds," Salzman said.

Xtra Heat will be ridden by her regular pilot, Rick Wilson, from post 7.

The biggest threat to Xtra Heat - at least from an early pressure standpoint - could be Shutup and Dance, who set a lively pace under pressure to win the Blue Sparkler by 4 1/4 lengths over three rivals at Monmouth Park on July 28.

Shutup and Dance, a 5-year-old, made her career debut only this year. From six starts, Shutup and Dance, who is trained by one of the newest members of the Hall of Fame, Richard Mandella, has won four races.

Superduper Miss is handy at six furlongs and with her stalking style, will be ready to pounce if a speed duel knocks out the front-runners.

Completing the field is Crystal Sea, who turns back in distance after several route losses, Ivy's Jewel, Lily's Affair, and Atlantic Destiny.