07/18/2002 11:00PM

Rotella stable one for the old school

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ELMONT, N.Y. - What is it that attracts owner John Rotella to the senior citizens of racing when making a claim?

"Everybody likes winners," Rotella said. "I'll take a hard-knocking horse over a 4-year-old who is 2 for 15 any time."

That's the logic Rotella used when claiming Stalwart Member, a 9-year-old gelding with more than $750,000 in earnings, for $30,000 earlier this month. Stalwart Member, a graded stakes winner with 17 wins from 52 starts, won the race from which he was claimed and now will carry Rotella's colors for the first time in Sunday's $75,000-added Evan Shipman Handicap.

Rotella, 54, also owns 9-year-old Arromanches, who he claimed for $50,000 in May. Earlier this year, Arromanches was riding a 10-race winning streak, which was snapped in February.

Since Rotella claimed Arromanches, a winner of 30 races from 75 starts with $779,525 in earnings, the horse has run fourth and sixth in a pair of claiming races.

Rotella, who has seven horses with trainer Victor Cuadra, said Arromanches needs tender, loving care as he advances in age.

"He has a lot of issues," Rotella said. "He's prone to infections in his throat because of tie-back surgery he had. He can't eat with his throat elevated, so his feed tub is on the ground. This way he can throw the mush back in his throat with his tongue."

That most famous member of Rotella's trio of old-timers is Say Florida Sandy, an 8-year-old who Rotella claimed for $60,000 four years ago. With $1,843,555 in earnings, Say Florida Sandy is the all-time leading New York-bred in money won.

A multiple stakes winner and a winner of 29 races from 84 starts, Say Florida Sandy is scheduled to run opening weekend at Saratoga in an allowance race.

Rotella, who won two races last week at Belmont with two younger horses in his stable, said the odds of him landing another Say Florida Sandy through the claim box are against him.

"When I claim these horses, I'm not looking for another Sandy," Rotella said. "That was a one-shot deal. But Arromanches and Stalwart Member are like Sandy in their own way because they have the desire to win."

Salzman getting weight-conscious

Speaking of horses with the desire to win, Xtra Heat, 21 for 28 lifetime, has been nominated to the $100,000-added Honorable Miss Handicap on Aug. 2 at Saratoga.

Xtra Heat suffered a rare loss in last Saturday's Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder. Xtra Heat, carrying 127 pounds, was beaten a half-length by Gold Mover, who carried 12 pounds fewer.

Xtra Heat's trainer, John Salzman, said he doesn't wish to continue to run Xtra Heat in races where she will pack a lot of weight, because it will eventually take its toll on the diminutive filly. In six starts this year, the least amount of weight carried by Xtra Heat was 125 pounds.

Salzman said if he's dissatisfied with weight assignments in handicaps, he'll look for stakes with allowance conditions.

"I know the rules of racing, but if they put weights on Tiger Woods' arms, he wouldn't be able to swing through all the way," Salzman said.

Salzman's main goal for Xtra Heat is the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park on Oct. 26. Last year, Xtra Heat was second in the Sprint.

Romolo's Fritzi may see Spa action

Romolo's Fritzi, a promising colt who was injured last year as a 3-year-old, is working toward his return to the races.

On Thursday at Saratoga, Romolo's Fritzi had his fourth three-furlong breeze since June 26.

Romolo's Fritzi was preparing for last year's Wood Memorial when he came out of an allowance race with a chip in his knee. Surgery to remove the chip also revealed a small fracture, which could not be operated on and required a considerable amount of time to heal.

Trainer John Terranova said it's possible Romolo's Fritzi would be ready to return to the races by the end of Saratoga's six-week meet.

"He's a very nice horse," Terranova said. "I'm very excited he's coming back."

One fewer fence

There will be one fewer steeple-chase fence on the backstretch at Saratoga, which means 2 1/16-mile races will feature nine jumps, opposed to 11, and 2 3/8-mile races will have 10 jumps, instead of 12.

The move was made to improve safety and to increase the competitiveness of the races.

"Saratoga is a very important showcase for steeplechasing, and we want to put our best product out there," said Bill Gallo, the director of the National Steeplechase Association. "Taking out a fence was discussed at length during the off-season. We feel it's a way to help make the races more competitive and better to watch."

Last year, four horses fell at fences in the nine steeplechase races run at Saratoga. A considerable number of horses left the course or were pulled up.

Steeplechase races will be conducted every Thursday, and every other Wednesday, beginning July 31.

* Lido Palace, preparing for the $750,000 Whitney Handicap on Aug. 3, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.24 on Friday over the main track.