07/26/2001 12:00AM

Victory Ride back at best distance


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - No one was more surprised - or disheartened - with the outcome of last month's Grade 1 Acorn Stakes than trainer Rusty Arnold.

With Victory Ride coming off two dominating victories, Arnold did not think she could lose the Acorn despite her lack of seasoning. At the sixteenth pole, he had to feel even better as Victory Ride moved past Forest Secrets and into the lead. But Forest Secrets came back and nipped Victory Ride by a neck at odds of 50-1.

"I wasn't disappointed in the effort, I was disappointed in the result," Arnold said. "Maybe she wasn't experienced enough; she wasn't in a fight yet. She came to the Acorn and drew an inside post, she had horses in front of her for the first time, and when that filly dug in on us, she hadn't had that yet."

In Saturday's Grade 1 Test Stakes at Saratoga, a more experienced Victory Ride will get a chance to avenge that loss when she takes on Forest Secrets and seven others. The $250,000 Test will be televised live on ESPN2 beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

Arnold has had the Test on his mind since the Acorn. He and owner G. Watts Humphrey opted to skip the Mother Goose, electing not to stretch her out in distance again. In the Test, she will be cutting back to seven furlongs, the distance of her two victories.

"We're ready now, we have no excuse," Arnold said. "If she gets beat, she gets outrun."

Xtra Heat has outrun just about everybody she has faced, winning 14 of 16 starts. Her only loss sprinting came by a nose to Cat Chat in the Grade 2 Nassau County Stakes at Belmont. She is coming off the best race of her career, a neck victory in the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes at Belmont. Two horses from that race have come back to win minor stakes.

Xtra Heat earned a career-best 112 Beyer Speed Figure in the Prioress, a 25-point jump from her previous race. Many people may be expecting the filly to bounce, or regress, on Saturday.

"With this filly, I don't believe in it," trainer John Salzman said of the bounce theory. "This filly has trained good up to this race, and she's been a whole lot happier as far as kicking and squealing. . . . I hope she'll bounce to the lead and bounce home the winner."

Forest Secrets cuts back in distance after a fourth-place finish in the Mother Goose.

Harmony Lodge, who was a good third in the Prioress, may prefer stretching out to the seven furlongs of the Test. Her trainer, Todd Pletcher, won this race in two of the past three years, with Jersey Girl in 1998 and Marley Vale in 1999.

Go to Saratoga coverage.