02/11/2002 12:00AM

Home is where the horses are

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Eoin Harty prefers to maintain a low profile. Why else would he hide behind a name so preposterously misspelled? Everyone knows it should be "Hardy," if he is truly as Irish as he says.

Alas, his cover has been blown. Harty took care of that last Oct. 27, when he sent out Tempera and Imperial Gesture to finish one-two in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Belmont Park. Such an achievement placed Harty in very rarified air. The other trainers who can lay claim to such a feat in a Breeders' Cup event answer to names like Shug McGaughey, Nick Zito, Wayne Lukas, Michael Stoute, and Harty's former boss Bob Baffert.

At the rate he's going, Harty should fit right in. The Breeders' Cup sweep marked a spectacular end to only his second season as a head trainer for the American-raced 2-year-olds owned by the Godolphin Stable of Dubai.

Now he is heading to Miami for the Eclipse Awards next Monday night, where he hopes to hear Tempera's name called when the envelope for champion 2-year-old filly is ripped opened.

Although her ability was not immediately apparent, Harty liked Tempera from the beginning, or at least from the moment he left Dubai last spring to set up shop in California.

"Over the course of last winter, four or five of us in the stable would make a list of who our top 10 were," Harty said. "Then, when we were about to leave, we'd do a final top 10 and each put up a hundred bucks. Tempera never made anybody's list - until I put her in that last one. Which meant I got all the cash at the end of the year. Even my father got in on the action last year, and it never hurts taking a little money from him."

Though born and raised in Ireland, the 39-year-old Harty has spent most of his adult life in the U.S. Eoin (drop the "E" and call him "Owen") is a son of Eddie Harty, the respected Irish bloodstock dealer and former star jump jockey who won the fabled Grand National at Aintree in 1969.

Eoin Harty doesn't train Tempera anymore. That's the way it goes in the highly structured Godolphin group, in which each trainer fills a specific role. Once Tempera reached the age of 3, she was shifted to the Godolphin first string trained by Saeed bin Suroor at the Al Quoz training facility in Dubai. Harty, in the meantime, has a whole new batch of about 50 untried and exquisitely bred 2-year-olds under his wing. His job is to develop the next Tempera, or better.

"I've got some really beautiful horses here," Harty said, "here" being his training yard near Nad al Sheba Racecourse, just down the road from Al Quoz. "It's definitely the best bunch I've had, by far. Whether there's another Breeders' Cup winner in there remains to be seen. But I couldn't be happier with the bunch I'll be bringing back this year."

That should be in early April, but it can't happen soon enough. Harty's trip to Miami will end more than a month of separation from his wife, Kathy, and son, 9-year-old Eddie. This year, for the first time, Harty made the winter Dubai trip on his own, while the family stayed home in Southern California. The events of Sept. 11 and subsequent turmoil - both military and political - gave the Hartys just enough pause to err on the side of caution.

"There was no reason for us to feel unsafe at all in Dubai," said Kathy Harty. "But it's hard to ignore what's going on in the world. And the school Eddie goes to over there is called the American School. Eoin and I thought that this might be a good year for us to stay home."

So Harty set sail alone, the reluctant bachelor, condemned to six weeks of his own cooking and his own company in a comfortable little house near an Iranian mosque in the Dubai district of Jumeira. Thank goodness he loves his job.

"Help," said the desperate expatriate. "I'm dying over here."

He wasn't serious, but he did sound homesick. The telephone connection was a bit scratchy, and there was that weird three-second delay between what you say and when it's heard, which renders a casual conversation into a series of jagged interruptions and formal pronouncements. A few things came though, however:

* The weather in the desert has been perfect for training horses, ranging from the 40's in the morning to the 70's in the afternoon, with just enough rain to settle the dust.

* Night life in Dubai starts deep into the evening, like around 11-ish, which is way too late for a horse trainer unless he takes a nap from 7 to 10 p.m.

* Depending on the route he takes to the stables, Harty could be delayed at any number of camel crossings.

* The television in Dubai leaves a lot to be desired. Apparently, America sends a lot of its unsuccessful product abroad (like bad tobacco) and pawns it off as Hollywood's finest.

"There are shows on here that I know were never even aired in the States," Harty said. "And for some reason, Ricki Lake is very popular."

Load the horses and get that man home. Now.