Updated on 09/16/2011 8:01AM

They're playing Xtra Heat's game

Trevor Jones
UAE Derby contestants Scottish River (left) and Leo's Luckyman train Tuesday at Nad Al Sheba.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - True, the Maktoum family's Godolphin stable holds a homefield advantage Saturday at Nad Al Sheba, scene of the $6 million Dubai World Cup and five other Thoroughbred races worth a combined $15 million.

Nevertheless, five of the 12 American runners Saturday will be playing a game the hosts have yet to perfect. At six furlongs, American speed is king, and Xtra Heat's co-owner Kenneth Taylor was accurate Tuesday in his prerace analysis of the $2 million Golden Shaheen.

"They've got some nice horses over here," said Taylor, "but normally they don't do well in sprints. That's our game."

The American contingent in the six-furlong Golden Shaheen includes Xtra Heat, 2001 Golden Shaheen winner Caller One and runner-up Men's Exclusive, improving California-bred Echo Eddie, and streaking Fair Grounds invader Bonapaw.

There are no Americans challenging the Maktoum-owned Sakhee in the Dubai World Cup (the only U.S. starter, Western Pride, has been sold to a Saudi Arabian prince).

enters the Golden Shaheen without weakness. Trainer John Salzman has planned on running her in the Golden Shaheen since September, and she shipped early from the East Coast chill. The filly and trainer arrived in Dubai on Feb. 25.

"It was cold where I was at, and most of the horses I'm going to run against were coming from Florida, California, or the Fair Grounds," Salzman said. "That's why we figured if we came over and got acclimated, maybe we'd have a little edge on them."

Perhaps Xtra Heat would have the edge anyway, having won 19 of 24 races and earning a 3-year-old-filly Eclipse last season. Over the past month at Nad Al Sheba, Xtra Heat has trained extremely well.

"She worked 58 and change, then came back the other morning and worked in 46 and change," Salzman said. "She takes to anything you do. You could run down a blacktop road, and she'd figure a way to get there."

Strict medication laws in Dubai mean Xtra Heat will race Saturday without Lasix.

"That's not a problem, she doesn't bleed," Salzman said. "One time she bled a couple drops and we put her on Lasix . . . just more or less because it helps them breathe better."

Salzman and Taylor each own one-third shares in Xtra Heat; Harry Deitchman owns the other third. When the owners, based in Maryland, first planned to send Xtra Heat to Dubai, Taylor was not going to make the trip.

"I wasn't coming," he said. "Not because of Sept. 11; I just don't like to fly."

Eventually, Taylor relented. He arrived late Monday, and watched a happy Xtra Heat gallop once around Nad Al Sheba Tuesday morning.

While strategy usually plays a critical role in longer races, the six-furlong Golden Shaheen is run on a straightaway. It is a race the fastest horse typically wins, as American-based Big Jag (2000) and Caller One (2001) have done.

Taylor laid out strategy: "I think she'll beat them to the front, and they'll have to come get her."

It may or may not be that simple; Salzman recognizes Caller One presents a formidable pace challenge. "I'm sure most of the people in her race are hoping Caller One and I will kill each other off . . . so that they can stalk and come around," Taylor said.

Based on Xtra Heat's healthy physical appearance and positive body language in morning gallops, she looks poised for a career best. She also has an apparent liking for the Nad Al Sheba track, which horsemen say resembles Churchill Downs. In order to win the Golden Shaheen, they have to beat the filly.

Few owners and trainers would match the confidence expressed this week in Dubai by Taylor and Salzman. Of course, not everyone arrives with a horse the quality of Xtra Heat.

"She'll be tough. Real tough," said Taylor. "She's as good as she's ever been. Right now."