One of the great what-if’s among fans of professional sports leagues involves wondering what might have happened if a certain player had competed in a different era.
Let a remarkable outside shooter such as “Pistol” Pete Maravich play college basketball or in the National Basketball Association 20 years later with a 3-point line and just imagine how many points per game the prolific scorer would have averaged.
The same what-if can be applied to the great distaff sprinter Xtra Heat.
She raced from 2000 until 2003 and won 26 of 35 starts and earned $2,389,635, figures good enough to earn her a spot in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2015.
Yet, much like “Pistol Pete,” Xtra Heat’s resume could have been even more spectacular had she been born a few years later.
For all of her success, Xtra Heat never won a Breeders’ Cup race and earned one Eclipse Award as a champion.
Yet at a different time, perhaps five years later, two Breeders’ Cup wins and two more Eclipse Awards might have been attached to the resume of a spectacular mare who was retired four years before the establishment of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and five years before Indian Blessing was honored as the first recipient of an Eclipse Award as the champion female sprinter.
Of course, much like “Pistol Pete,” even without those extra jewels in her career, there’s no denying that Xtra Heat was one of the best horses of her generation.
“Oh, she was a beast of all beasts. She was a monster,” Ken Taylor, a part owner of Xtra Heat, told Thoroughbred Racing Commentary in 2015. “There was nobody faster in the whole world. You had to run to catch her.”
Anyone who watched or wagered on the first race at Laurel on June 30, 2000 probably would have broken into uncontrollable laughter if it was mentioned to them that the race would feature a future Hall of Famer.
After all, it was a highly humble $25,000 maiden claimer for 2-year-old fillies with a 3-5 favorite in a filly named Frosty Rox who had finished fifth and second in her first two races.
What they didn’t know is that there was an unraced filly in the field named Xtra Heat who was purchased earlier in the year for $5,000 but would prove to be worth much, much more than that.
Owned by Taylor in a partnership with Harry Deitchman and trainer John Salzman Sr., the Kentucky-bred daughter of Dixieland Heat beat Frosty Rox by a neck as the 2-1 second choice in her career debut.
No one dropped a claim slip on Xtra Heat and Salzman was wise enough to never put in her in a claimer again. She reeled off five straight wins in sprint stakes after that, capped by a victory in the Grade 2 Astarita.
The Breeders’ Cup was next but the mile and a sixteenth Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies was a tall order for a filly who had never raced beyond 6 ½ furlongs. Sent off at 30-1 odds, Xtra Heat showed little after being checked at the start and was never better eighth at any call as she finished 10th in a field of 12.
A runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Nassau County at Belmont Park followed, but one race later she notched the lone Grade 1 victory of her career in the Prioress Stakes.
Shipped to Saratoga, she finished second to 7-5 favorite Victory Ride in the Grade 1 Test at seven furlongs, then notched three straight wins as she moved along the road to a return trip to the Breeders’ Cup.
Matched against males, Xtra Heat was lightly regarded in a field of 14 at Belmont Park as she broke from the gate at 17-1 odds. Yet the fabulous filly put her speed and determination on display as she held a length lead at the eighth pole but was unable to fend off a late charge by Squirtle Squirt and finished second by a half-length.
“She was the fastest filly I ever saw, even when she lost the Breeders’ Cup in New York,” Taylor said. “(Jockey Jorge Chavez) said he almost got left on her. She was running against the boys on a track that wasn’t to her liking. Now they’ve got a girls’ race, of course, but everybody talks about that. She was the real deal.”
Xtra Heat raced once more in 2001, tackling males again in the Grade 1 DeFrancis Dash, but she wound up third.
Still, with a record of nine wins in 13 starts, it was good enough to earn Xtra Heat an Eclipse Award as the year’s champion 3-year-old filly.
She was also third against the guys in the $2-million Golden Shaheen in Dubai.
"I don't think she got tired,” Salzman told the Baltimore Sun after the loss in Dubai. “She just got beat. She can't beat the colts, evidently."
Salzman’s words also rang true in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Sprint as she chased the pace in third before tiring in the stretch and fading to sixth against males.
After the Breeders’ Cup, Xtra Heat was put up for sale at a Fasig-Tipton auction but failed to reach her reserve price of $1.9-million and was later sold privately for $1.5 million to Classic Star Stable, who retained Salzman as the trainer.
She ran three more times after that and was retired early in 2003 after winning the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie at Laurel for a second straight year.
It closed the book on a fabulous racing career that included 25 stakes wins.
“I never thought in my life, and I’ve been buying horses for a long time, that I would ever have a horse of that quality, to win that many stakes races, and cost $5,000,” Taylor said. “It’s hard to even imagine. Being elected to the Hall of Fame is as big as it gets. As far as horse racing’s concerned, it doesn’t matter anymore. I’m good.”
So was the filly he owned, even if she raced a few years before female sprinters received their just recognition from the Breeders’ Cup and the Eclipse Awards.
Fun facts about Xtra Heat
- Squirtle Squirt, who beat Xtra Heat in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, gave Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel his first BC victory after 38 losses.
- Taylor said trainer Scott Lake planned to claim Xtra Heat in her first race, but he went to lunch and forgot to put in the claim slip.
- As a broodmare, Xtra Heat is the dam of stakes winners Elusive Heat and Southwestern Heat.