04/27/2005 11:00PM

Partners Due tough off distance cutback

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The shorter the better seems to be an apt motto for the 3-year-old filly Partners Due.

Unable to hold substantial leads at the eighth pole in back-to-back starts at six furlongs last fall, Partners Due responded well to rest and a slightly less demanding distance in her seasonal debut 2 1/2 weeks ago.

Saturday, shortens up even more, to five furlongs, for the first running of the $50,000 Xtra Heat Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Pimlico.

Trained by Mike Trombetta, Partners Due sped to a six-length lead after the first five furlongs of the six-furlong Maryland Million Lassie last October, only to fade to second as the even-money favorite. Three weeks later, she faded again, allowing a five-length lead at the eighth pole to turn into a second-place finish in the six-furlong Hildene at Delaware Park.

Given nearly five months off, Partners Due produced a 5 1/4-length win and a career-best 85 Beyer Speed Figure in a 5 1/2-furlong first-level allowance on April 13 at Laurel. Perhaps even more significantly, she showed the ability to rate for the first time.

Southern California shipper , a minor stakes winner at Del Mar last summer, figures to provide the toughest competition for Partners Due. Coastal Strike has yet to display her best form in three starts this year, all against tougher horses than she will meet in the Xtra Heat.

improved dramatically in her first start off a $75,000 claim by trainer Scott Lake when she missed by a nose in the Smart Halo at Laurel four weeks ago. Both her career wins have come at distances shorter than six furlongs.

Lemon Drop Gal, Boardwalk Babe, and Military Code all come out of wire-to-wire wins against maidens. Lemon Drop Gal, cross-entered in Saturday's Legal Light at Delaware Park, ran the fastest of the three, earning an 83 Beyer in her first start on Lasix.