I can always depend on XTO Energy (NYSE:XTO) Chairman Bob Simpson for a colorful analogy. First, he said XTO was a machine that marches. Now, it's a thoroughbred that, despite the restraint being applied, is still racing ahead of its peers.

In the first quarter, XTO trotted out 29% higher production than last year. Revenue rose by the same percentage, while operating cash flow galloped 40% higher. Whoa, Nelly!

I noted in my review of Chesapeake Energy's (NYSE:CHK) quarter that independents, unlike integrated majors such as ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), have a hard time not growing these days. XTO, hitting on this same theme, noted that it's "really having a hard time slowing Barnett growth down." The company was referring, of course, to its prolific Barnett shale play, which averaged close to 600 million cubic feet equivalent of gas per day for the quarter. That's 7% sequential growth, despite XTO's steadily drop from 18 operated rigs in the Barnett in September to 13 today.

In newer plays like the Fayetteville shale -- where BP (NYSE:BP) has eagerly saddled up with Chesapeake, and Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN) is also having a fine time -- XTO's growth is even more torrid. This company is simply built to canter.

All of this growth wouldn't do shareholders much good with commodity prices where they are. Fortunately, XTO wasn't horsing around with its hedging strategy last year. Like EnCana (NYSE:ECA), the company secured some stupendous prices for its production this year. Natural gas price realizations thus dipped just 6% from last year, while XTO actually scored 30% more for its relatively modest oil production.

It's been said that hedging can make you look like a genius one moment and an idiot the next. So far, XTO's looking like one smart jockey for locking in marvelous cash margins in the midst of a morose market for natural gas. While some of its rivals display long faces, XTO is off to the races.

Chesapeake Energy is an Inside Value selection. Choose among any of our stable of Foolish newsletter services for a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.