07/15/2002 12:00AM

In Gold Cup, big heart trumped steel nerves

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NEW YORK - Thoughts and notes from several stakes races last weekend:

Jockey Kent Desormeaux must have had nerves of steel and tremendous confidence to allow Milwaukee Brew to drop back as far as he did early in Sunday's Hollywood Gold Cup. But one thing he didn't have was a clock in his head. The Gold Cup pace was somewhat contested, but it wasn't nearly fast and demanding enough to allow Milwaukee Brew to make up the huge deficit he faced. So don't hold Milwaukee Brew's third-place finish against him.

That said, it's impossible to come away with anything but respect for the Gold Cup winner, Sky Jack. Although he was the controlling speed, Sky Jack was hounded early by Macaneo. And as soon as Macaneo surrendered, Momentum was right in Sky Jack's face. Still, Sky Jack prevailed, after knee surgery and two colic surgeries within the last 14 months, and at a distance of 1 1/4 miles that is probably beyond is best trip. That was, well, really something. If some of the current big-name horses had half the heart Sky Jack does, we would have a lot of great horses to enjoy.

Came Home merely did the expected

Came Home's victory in the Swaps Stakes on the Gold Cup undercard didn't prove a lot. Came Home outclassed the field on paper, and he outclassed them on the track.

But what the Swaps did prove is that Came Home is not a true 1 1/8-mile horse. His record at nine furlongs does now read two starts and two wins, but Came Home came home slowly in his first attempt at the distance, in the Santa Anita Derby, and on Sunday, three months later, he didn't look any more comfortable completing the final stages of the Swaps.

Came Home may try the turf at Del Mar, and that is a very smart idea. He is a son of Gone West, whose get are often freaks on the grass. If Came Home is committed to a career transition like War Chant's two years ago, he could be a major force in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Crafty C.T.: Neither fish nor foul

People who took 9-1 on Crafty C.T. in future wagering on the Breeders' Cup Sprint over Fourth of July Weekend have to be a little worried after the way he ran in Saturday's Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder.

There is no question that Crafty C.T. is a talented colt. But looks like a "tweener." He doesn't want to go much farther than a mile, and after the Smile you have to wonder if he can sprint effectively against top company.

The problem with Crafty C.T. sprinting is he doesn't have great gate speed. It happened again in the Smile, putting him in a hole early behind Orientate and Echo Eddie, the kind of hole he doesn't have the closing kick to get out of. The Smile had a seven-horse field lacking early speed in numbers, so what is Crafty C.T. going to do in a race like the Breeders' Cup Sprint, which seems to always attract a field of 14, half of whom are usually go-for-the-lead types?

The lack of speed in the Smile was really in Orientate's favor, as he was in a pace-controlling position from his outside post. Echo Eddie was close to Orientate down the backstretch, but Echo Eddie is essentially a stalker from close range, and the only reason he went after Orientate early is that there was no one else to keep Orientate honest in front. Big strategical edge or not, Orientate has now won stakes in his last three starts on dirt, and surely his bandwagon is quickly filling up.

But when Orientate won the Aristides and the Commonwealth in Kentucky in his dirt starts before the Smile, he caught speed-favoring tracks. Before I get too enthralled with Orientate, I want to see what he will do in a race on an even track with two or three other legitimate speed horses to contend with.

Stalkers' paradise

Perhaps Calder's Summit of Speed program, of which the Smile was a component, should be renamed the Summit of the Stalking Sprinter, because that was the successful running style in the three other major races there Saturday.

Of course, the winning stalker who made the biggest news was Gold Mover, who caught Xtra Heat in the Princess Rooney Handicap.

I would bet Jerry Bailey, the rider of Gold Mover, probably couldn't believe his eyes when Xtra Heat was narrowly outgunned for the early lead by Vague Memory. I don't know where Vague Memory got that kind of gas, and I bet few others do, either. But that early pressure took just enough out of Xtra Heat in the late stages to allow Gold Mover, who sat in the garden spot early in third, to get up late. The connections of Gold Mover should send Vague Memory a lifetime supply of mints and carrots as a thank you.