02/13/2003 12:00AM

Two filly sprint stakes take backseat to none


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - While the primary focus of this weekend's stakes action is deservedly directed to the 3-year-olds in the Fountain of Youth and Hutcheson on Saturday, and the Risen Star on Sunday, two sprint stakes for fillies on Saturday are not to be missed.

Laurel's seven-furlong Barbara Fritchie and Aqueduct's six-furlong Dearly Precious each drew fields of seven, and have several common threads running through them, the most obvious being the fact that Xtra Heat has won them both. She won the Dearly Precious as a still unheralded little buzzsaw early in her 3-year-old season of 2001, and wired the Fritchie as a 4-year-old.

Another similarity between the two races are the potential early speed duels brewing between the likely favorites - Xtra Heat vs. Carson Hollow at Laurel, and Harford Ghost vs. Lizzy Cool at The Big A.

An expected confrontation in the Breeders' Cup Sprint between Xtra Heat and Carson Hollow failed to materialize when both were only brief factors in a speed-packed field, but they can't avoid each other in this match-up. Carson Hollow drew outside Xtra Heat and is thus in position to dictate the tempo. She can either go right after Xtra Heat from the get-go, which could set the race up for the in-form turnback mare Zonk, or she can elect to sit just off Xtra Heat, which usually sets things up for Xtra Heat.

Both scored the only Grade 1 victories of their careers in Belmont's Prioress Stakes - Carson Hollow in 2002, Xtra Heat the year before. Despite each losing their subsequent races when second in the Test Stakes - Carson Hollow in 2002 and Xtra Heat the year before - they both won over even the most hardened skeptics after cutting out blazing fractions and steadfastly refusing to run up the white flag in the stretch.

Also, Breeders' Cup races mark the only occasions when Xtra Heat and Carson Hollow have finished out of the money.

The Fritchie should be a great race from a tactical standpoint. But it's tough to speculate on what will happen between two fillies who are mirror images of each other in many respects, and little if any value is to be found among the three main contenders anyway.

Zonk is in a potentially favorable strategic position, but would have to run faster than she ever has, and do it at a distance she has never run.

Xtra Heat has many outstanding qualities, but offering value isn't one of them.

Carson Hollow hasn't been out in nearly four months. That is not a negative, because she has won all three of her previous starts off workouts (an 18-length win in her debut, the Prioress, and her top Beyer in the Floral Park). But trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. has been the kiss of death recently in feature races, at least at Aqueduct, where Torre and Zim ran next-to-last at 4-5 in last Saturday's Whirlaway; Late Carson was dead last at 6-5 in Sunday's feature; and Tailfromthecrypt was a bad fourth at even money in Wednesday's feature.

Dutrow factor crucial in Dearly Precious, too

The "Dutrow Factor" looms over the Dearly Precious as well, when Dick's Maryland-based brother, Anthony, saddles probable favorite Harford Ghost.

Burned chalkplayers will recall that in last year's Dearly Precious the Tony Dutrow-trained Nice Boots Baby ran dead last, beaten a dozen lengths at 2-5 after being run into the ground by Proper Gamble, a gray bullet who was exiting a runner-up finish in the Ruthless.

A duel may develop this time between Harford Ghost, who wired an entry-level allowance last time out, and Lizzy Cool, who most recently splashed to victory in the Ruthless over a sealed, thawing-out surface labeled "good."

Both have been need-to-lead types early in their career. Harford Ghost has won twice by open lengths when able to lead at the first call, and has lost twice when outsprinted early. In three starts when leading at the first call, Lizzy Cool has won twice, at 8-1 and 9-5, and finished a close second at 20-1. In two starts when denied the front, however, she has finished last, and has been beaten the length of the stretch.

Pace and speed figures from their last two races are instructive, because they serve as solid proof of the handicapping tenet that increased pace figures lead to decreased final figures, and vice-versa:

Harford Ghost:101-105(Jan. 18)

105-99 (Nov. 9)

Lizzy Cool:96-104 (Jan. 5)

102-98 (Dec. 18)

(As an aside, note that Lizzy Cool's total pace and final figs add up to the same amount for each effort, and are just distributed differently. The number of times you will see this direct inverse relationship is uncanny.)

The numbers suggest that if a duel develops, Harford Ghost and Lizzy Cool are both vulnerable, particularly Lizzy Cool, who was able to virtually walk to the early lead in the Ruthless. A high pace figure may lead to a correspondingly lower final figure for each.

The most likely beneficiary of the anticipated duel would be Reign of Tara, a stalker who, like last year's Dearly Precious winner Proper Gamble, ran second in the Ruthless last out. Her three sprint races look like this on pace and speed:

Reign of Tara:94-103(Jan. 18)

100-100 (Dec. 6)

101-102 (Oct. 13)

Chasing a loose Lizzy Cool through a slow pace didn't help Reign of Tara at all in the Ruthless, but she may get a much better set-up in the Dearly Precious.

Gulfstream shippers: Bet them. Period.

Horseplayers at Aqueduct are advised to bet first and ask questions later when they see a Gulfstream shipper. Such horses went 4 for 5 at the Big A last week. Miss Dixie Dream ($4.10), Kings Empress ($3.90), and Traumatic ($5.80) won by a combined 20 lengths on the Feb. 6 card.

Last Saturday, Boston Park ($16.40) wired the Whirlaway after a sixth-place finish in Gulfstream's Holy Bull in his first start as a 3-year-old.