01/16/2003 12:00AM

Xtra Heat hard to get past

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Officially, the eighth race on Laurel Park's Saturday program is the What a Summer Stakes. In reality, it's a paid workout for the sensational female sprinter Xtra Heat.

Xtra Heat, who was not expected to make her 5-year-old debut until the $200,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap on Feb. 15, surprisingly showed up in the entries for the What a Summer, a six-furlong race with a purse of only $60,000. It will be the smallest purse Xtra Heat has competed for since she won the $36,000 Arctic Cloud at Pimlico in June 2001.

"Hopefully, she'll run well and we can run her back in the Fritchie," said trainer John Salzman, explaining he wanted to give Xtra Heat a prep for the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie, a seven-furlong race that she won last year. "She's training fine and we expect her to run her race on Saturday."

Since her modest beginnings as a $25,000 maiden claimer, Xtra Heat has won 24 of 33 starts and $2,239,635, and earned an Eclipse Award as the top 3-year-old filly of 2001.

It's difficult to find anything more than a scrap of evidence to give the other seven fillies and mares a glimmer of hope against Xtra Heat, the 2-5 favorite on the track's morning line.

Her competition gets no break in weight, for example. Under the conditions of the race, Xtra Heat has to carry just 122 pounds, the lightest assignment she has had since she carried 121 in last September's Grade 3 Endine at Delaware Park.

The only negative factor is that Xtra Heat comes into the race off back-to-back losses. After finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Arlington Park on Oct. 26, Xtra Heat was privately sold for $1.5 million to David Plummer's Classic Star Stable. In Xtra Heat's first start for her new owners, she finished second as the 127-pound highweight in the Garland of Roses Handicap at Aqueduct on Dec. 14.

But even in those defeats, Xtra Heat earned Beyer Speed Figures of 101 and 102. Nobody else in the What a Summer lineup has come close to those numbers.

The most imposing challenger looks like 4-year-old filly Gazillion, a winner of 5 of 9 lifetime starts, including an eight-length romp against statebreds on Dec. 26 in which she earned a career-best 94 Beyer.

Kimbralata is a five-time winner at Laurel, but both of her career-high Beyers of 94 have come at seven furlongs, including a third behind Xtra Heat in the 2002 Barbara Fritchie.

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