12/06/2001 12:00AM

Yes, Xtra Heat might not win this one


JAMAICA, N.Y. - Horseplayers are used to seeing primarily bread-and-butter types once racing switches to Aqueduct's inner dirt track, but you just never know when an exceptional horse will make her presence known.

During the past 10 years or so, eventual champions or Grade 1 winners such as Thunder Rumble, Saratoga Dew, Prairie Bayou, and Missy's Mirage all raced at the Big A during the winter.

Though no one knew it at the time, the fastest horse to race here last winter was Xtra Heat, the storybook $5,000 purchase who began her 3-year-old campaign by winning the Ruthless on Jan. 7 and the Dearly Precious on Feb. 17.

The Beyer Speed Figure of 89 given to Xtra Heat for the Ruthless was a career-best effort at the time, and her Beyer for the Ruthless was a nice but unremarkable 84. So who could have foreseen the rags-to-riches filly would return for her next start on the inner track as a legit final-round candidate for the 3-year-old filly title and the sprint title?

But 10 months and seven stakes victories later that is indeed the case. Xtra Heat is back at the Big A, and her presence as the 124-pound highweight in the Garland of Roses Handicap gives the first Saturday on the inner dirt some unexpected but very welcome pizazz.

Not only that, but Xtra Heat's particulars in the Garland of Roses make for an interesting handicapping situation. She had Andy Beyer's "three-and-out" pattern (from "Beyer On Speed") going into the De Francis, when she was coming off a 117-120-118 sequence that was the best of her life. She regressed to a 106 in the De Francis, after being hard-pressed to run Caller One into the ground. Caller One, by the way, came back in last Sunday's Vernon O. Underwood at Hollywood Park, and surrendered a clear lead in midstretch to wind up third at 3-5.

So what's coming now for Xtra Heat? She is heavily raced. She starts for the 14th time this year, and the 23rd time overall. Even with her well-documented resiliency, it's hard to imagine her bouncing back to the peak she was at heading to the Breeders' Cup.

Moreover, Xtra Heat is in a rare situation as a 3-year-old giving actual weight to an older talented rival in Dat You Miz Blue. However trivial and overblown a factor weight may be in most instances, taking 3-5 under the specter of these two stumbling blocks - a possible bounce, and a worst-of-the-weights situation - is strictly for the bridgejumpers and souvenir hunters. Singling her in multi-race exotics hardly seems prudent.

We can begin by throwing out the pretenders. Xtra Heat has run triple-digit figures in her last seven starts, but Look of the Lynx, Carafe, Golightly, Tina Dynamite, and Elektraline haven't reached that plateau even once in their last 10 starts. Out they go.

What's left? Just the enigmatic Dat You Miz Blue and Raging Fever, who, to recall, was 3-5 against Xtra Heat the last time she ran almost eight months ago.

A race to get heavily involved with? Certainly not. But one could certainly see a scenario where Xtra Heat labors late under the weight and gets beat for the third straight time.

Dat You Miz Blue has always been a very tough filly to figure, but she is freakishly fast on her best days, and signaled a return to form when taken off Lasix for her last-race win at The Meadowlands. She might be a value-laden back-up type for the pick four.

Raging Fever is a Grade 1 winner, albeit 14 months ago. She would merit an extra look if the track happens to come up wet.

Situation was ripe to hit 'all'

Speaking of the pick four, the bet continues to provide the sizzle in the steak for players who are concentrating on the bet.

At Aqueduct last Friday, the pick four for the sequence of Marnie's Wish ($88), Baseball Champion ($3.70), Tempest Fugit ($13.40), and Sweet Scarlet ($12.80) paid the staggering sum of $113,054, versus a $2 win parlay of $6,980.

Having a ticket on that combination was not inconceivable considering that Baseball Champion was an odds-on favorite, Tempest Fugit is a horse for the course on the main track (4 for 5), and Sweet Scarlet was third choice in the nightcap.

The "all" button for 43-1 bomber Marnie's Wish might well have been considered, since it was one of those inscrutable 2-year-old maiden special-weight sprints for New York-bred fillies with few running lines to go on.

Last winter's races are relevant

Not that experienced bettors need reminding, but the first two days of racing on the inner track have brought the "horse for course" factor into play.

Alex's Love, a two-time winner on the inner last winter, but winless since then, went wire to wire opening day.

On Thursday, Rift Valley, whose only lifetime win came in her only start on the inner last winter at 15-1, came from off the pace to win an allowance route at $37.40. She had lost each of her three most recent starts by at least 10 lengths.