Happy new year! And for the third consecutive year, I’m kicking off my year at a racetrack. In 2009, I welcomed the new year on the Fair Grounds backstretch; last year, it was Calder; and finally, this year, I’m making it to my first New Year’s Day at the Big A, getting my NYRA calendar in person. Wouldn’t it be great if a glass of Champagne came with each one?
Bubbly is too much to hope for, but this year’s NYRA calendar does come with a little added treat: Each month features a code that, when scanned with a smartphone, directly links to the race replay for that month’s featured horse. Cool!
Today’s features are the Count Fleet and the Interborough; the former was won in 2008 by Giant Moon and in 2009 by Haynesfield, both local favorites who went on to win graded stakes races in New York.
The Interborough, an older race (first run in 1921), boasts no such notable recent winners, though Affectionately won it in 1962 and 1963, Ta Wee in 1969 and 1970. Restricted to fillies and mares now, it was an open race until 1956.
And eight years ago, the Interborough hosted a champion.
Xtra Heat had been voted champion 3-year-old filly in 2001, on the strength of a 13-start campaign that had resulted in 9 wins, 3 seconds and a third, none beyond seven furlongs. She had closed out her year with two starts against the boys: a second in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to Squirtle Squirt, who had won the King’s Bishop that year and finished second in the Vosburgh, and a third in the DeFrancis Dash.
She opened her 4-year-old season on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct, winning the Interborough by five and a half lengths; she’d go on in 2002 to win seven times from 11 starts, with two seconds and a third. Her victories included the Vagrancy and the Phoenix, the latter against males. In her three starts in 2003, at age 5, she had a win and two seconds.
Xtra Heat raced beyond seven furlongs only once, a 10th place finish in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Jay Privman in Champions notes that she was “small in stature, but had an intense desire to win.” She earned Beyer Speed Figures of 110 or more on six occasions.
Eight years ago, Karen Johnson wrote in Daily Racing Form about Xtra Heat’s Interborough:
Xtra Heat, the 1-5 favorite under Harry Vega, quickly scooted to the front and opened a clear lead in the six-furlong Interborough and set fractions of 22.76 seconds and 46.39. With Ability chased Xtra Heat and attempted a run at the favorite around the turn, but to no avail. Xtra Heat extended her advantage in upper stretch and Vega, who periodically looked back to check on the competition, kept busy with his stick in the final yards even though Xtra Heat’s lead wasn’t threatened.
Johnson also noted that the victory made Xtra Heat three for three on Aqueduct’s inner track. On that day, too, patrons got the NYRA calendar on New Year’s Day. Attendance was 15,383.
In Kentucky last week, I visited Woodford Thoroughbreds, home of Xtra Heat; currently in foal to Elusive Quality, the daughter of Dixieland Band out of Begin has produced seven foals, three of which have earned more than $100,000 each: Elusive Heat (winner of the Geyser Springs Stakes at Saratoga in the last of her four lifetime starts and reportedly currently in foal to Medaglia D’Oro), Southwestern Heat, and X Rated Cat.
She’s got a bit of an imperious air, as if she knows that she’s better than you, and while she’s accommodating, friendly, and curious, she takes her treats rather aggressively, as if they are her due, making clear that the visit is strictly, solely on her terms.
She’s got a Facebook page and she’s left her mark, literally and figuratively; with no champions entered in today’s Interborough, her place in that race’s history, and on the inner track at Aqueduct, is in no jeopardy.