Southwestern Heat Doesn't Cool Down, Holds On for Victory in the Sonny Hine

By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 21, 2007

When the starting gate opens, it's a pretty safe bet all the horses running will immediately get a pretty good view of the rear end of Southwestern Heat. For a half-mile, there likely isn't a faster horse in Maryland and few as quick in the country.

Like his mother, the champion filly Xtra Heat, Southwestern Heat is a whirlwind, but unlike her, the 3-year-old chestnut colt doesn't often show the grit and stamina to carry his speed to the finish line. In the $75,000 Sonny Hine Stakes yesterday at Laurel Park, however, Southwestern Heat's torrid first gear was enough to get the job done.

At the pop of the gate latch, he was out and gone, up by four lengths after a quarter-mile, seven lengths at the half and 10 in front turning for home. Despite running the final eighth of a mile of the six-furlong race in a glacial 14.27 seconds, Southwestern Heat's early exertions were more than enough and he won by 3 1/2 lengths.

His half-mile time of 44.63 seconds was breathtaking; his final time of 1 minute 11.36 seconds was fast but not spectacular.

In the winner's circle afterward, jockey Eric Camacho, who rode the horse for trainer Tim Salzman and owner Southcoast Stables, detailed the strategy for riding Southwestern Heat.

"I just hang on and hope we get to the wire first," Camacho said. "He knows what to do. It's like riding an airplane."

The victory was the first in a stakes race for Southwestern Heat, who has folded up in the stretch time and again in his most important races. On July 4, he dueled with a colt named Idiot Proof in a stakes race at Monmouth Park before running out of steam. Idiot Proof broke the track record that day and will run next week in the Breeders' Cup.

The bettors at Laurel clearly expected a similar result in the Sonny Hine, named after the late trainer of the great Skip Away. They made Jacob's Run, a stakes-placed runner down from the Fair Hill Training Center, the 4-5 favorite and sent Southwestern Heat off at 9-1 in the field of eight. With the unbeaten speedster Bet a Buck in the race for trainer Michael Trombetta, Southwestern Heat figured to have a duel on his hands, but that horse never threatened, running second early and disintegrating to sixth.

"He acted like [Xtra Heat] today," Salzman said after the race. "The first step is so quick. He's been running against some good competition and trying so hard and horses going to the Breeders' Cup."

Asked what it might take to get Southwestern Heat to run as fast at the end of his races as he does at the beginning, Salzman said, "I wish I knew because I'd fix it."

Racing Notes: Jockey Sheldon Russell, 20, went down with his horse, Cherna, in the stretch of the fifth race yesterday and was taken by ambulance to Laurel Beltsville Hospital for X-rays. Russell and the horse laid motionless on the track for several minutes. Cherna suddenly arose and walked away and Russell, who was moving his arms and legs, was mobilized on a stretcher and taken off the grass course. His condition was unavailable.

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