Happy new year: the Interborough and Xtra Heat

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.

Click here for more photos of Xtra Heat; Valerie Grash of Foolish Pleasure is a particular fan, and here she makes a case for Xtra Heat to go in the Hall of Fame.

6 thoughts on “Happy new year: the Interborough and Xtra Heat

  1. Funny thing is, I was thinking about this race yesterday but couldn’t remember what year it took place. It was an exciting race to behold from a table at Equestris. Your column brings it all back. Thanks!

  2. Ah, my girl! I just love Xtra Heat, and particularly fell in love with her first born, Southwestern Heat. His career was, unfortunately, derailed by injury, but he was extremely competitive with Idiot Proof who went on to not only set a new track record in their race, but later finished second to Midnight Lute in the BC Sprint and to Benny the Bull in the Golden Shaheen. After a season in Australia, he’s back in the U.S. and standing his first season in New Mexico in 2011, alongside Desert God, Diabolical and Song of Navarone at the A&A Ranch. Thanks, Teresa, for the update on Xtra Heat!

  3. My first visit to AQU in about 20 years. WOW! I kept saying, WOW! First it was hard to find my way in, as I entered by the valet parking and you had to take an elevator to the first clubhouse floor. The elevator buttons reminded me of the elevators in my grandmother’s apartment. They were buttons, nothing lit up, an old-fashioned, press it in, button.

    I felt excited by the crowd, everyone wanted their calendars, I guess. Then, I began to look around at the gross neglect of the place. On the whole politics anger me and I began to get angry. I could actually see the decay that has taken place since 2001 and all the years that passed without a racino contract. WOW, do the Genting people have a lot of work to do. They paid $300,000,000 to spend who knows how much more to renovate AQU.

    My son and I went up to the second floor and wandered outside to what used to be the owner’s boxes. WOW, talk about disrepair. And then there was a time warp moment. A couple appeared in the area that seemed to have been transported directly from the paddock at SAR. He was dressed in his Brooks Brothers outfit and she looked right from Talbots. They kind of stood in an aisle not quite knowing what to do. They were surrounded by a crowd of New Yorkers that came for their $2 calendars. These outside areas have become the SMOKING areas. My coat smells like cigars.

    I could go on and on, but I think that scene is enough. I sure hope the VLT money will restore the whole place. I hope BEL doesn’t look like this, as I have not been there in many years. Until the time comes when AQU is renovated, I will stick to SAR and MTH. I like that image a lot more!

  4. Great to see her! I fondly remember that running of the Interborough. I had played a Pick Six with Xtra Heat singled in the last leg, and when she came down the stretch and With Ability threw in the towel, it was clear I was cashing. Even with a 1/5 horse it paid around $9,500–not a bad way to start the new year! Thanks for the memories, Eric

  5. So nice to hear your memories about her! I wish that I’d been paying more attention to racing when she was racing, or that I could have found a video to embed of her Interborough.

    Matthew, I agree that there are places at Aqueduct that are pretty dumpy…but a few of the rooms are still pretty pleasant to hang out. It’s not Saratoga or Monmouth, but I don’t find it quite as depressing as you do.

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