Updated on 09/15/2011 1:28PM

Speed duel sets up 'Delaware'

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Fast-closing Delaware Township, ridden by Jerry Bailey, capitalizes on fast early fractions to score a three-length win in the De Francis Dash.

When the two fastest Thoroughbreds in America went head-to-head at Laurel Park on Saturday, Xtra Heat won the battle. But she lost the war.

After that Maryland-based 3-year-old filly raced Caller One into defeat, Delaware Township ($8.80) flew past them both and drew away to a decisive victory in the $300,000 *. He scored by three lengths over another stretch-runner, Early Flyer, as Xtra Heat faded to finish third. Kona Gold, the champion American sprinter of last season, was a lackluster fourth.

Xtra Heat and Caller One have sped to the early lead in almost all of their races, and a suicidal duel was widely expected when they faced each other in the speed-filled Breeders' Cup Sprint three weeks ago. But Xtra Heat outran everybody - and eventually finished second - when none of the rival jockeys went on a mission to challenge her.

This time, however, the scenario figured to be different. If Caller One permitted Xtra Heat to have an uncontested lead nobody else would be able to press her, and she would be almost unbeatable. So when the gate opened, jockey David Flores started pushing on Caller One as if this were a Quarter Horse race.

The 4-year-old Caller One sped along the backstretch fast enough to outrun just about any sprinter on Earth - except for Xtra Heat. The filly, ridden by jockey Harry Vega, appeared to be on cruise control as she kept her head in front of the challenger. But neither was cruising. The leaders covered the first quarter mile in 21.50 seconds, an extraordinary time over a dull racing strip.

The two of them sped six lengths clear of their five rivals as they rounded the turn, and they passed the half-mile mark in another amazing fractional time - 44.22 seconds. Such intense pressure had to take a toll on them. And it did.

This is just what jockey Jerry Bailey had hoped for, and expected, when he climbed aboard Delaware Township. The 5-year-old Delaware Township isn't especially quick, but he does have a good closing kick, and Bailey said, "Any time you have a come-from-behind sprinter you need two things to go your way. You need some pace and you need lack of traffic problems. It just stood to reason with Caller One and Xtra Heat you'd have plenty of pace."

Bailey had permitted his mount to drop back to last place. Even when he was 10 lengths behind the leaders, he was in no hurry; he was content to save ground near the rail and wait while the leaders engaged in further mutual destruction. When he turned into the stretch and saw that the leaders were weakening, Bailey angled Delaware Township toward the outside and accelerated past the tired Xtra Heat. He covered the six furlongs in 1:09 flat.

The victory was the 11th in 21 career starts for Delaware Township, who has been a high-class competitor in New York and New Jersey over the past two seasons. He won a Grade 1 stakes at Saratoga this summer, and most recently finished sixth in the Breeders' Cup, losing by less than three lengths. Trainer Ben Perkins Jr. said the De Francis Dash was the horse's last race and that he will go to stud next year.

Xtra Heat's loss was only her fifth in 22 career starts. The loss almost certainly dashed her hopes of being named the nation's outstanding sprinter, an honor which will probably go to Breeders' Cup winner Squirtle Squirt. But her reputation was hardly marred by a performance in which she proved, definitively, that she is the fastest of the fast.

(c) 2001 The Washington Post

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