07/14/2002 11:00PM

A hot time on both coasts


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - From Calder's razzle-dazzle Summit of Speed to Hollywood's historic Cup of Gold, the weekend embraced 3,000 air miles, 23 races, and half a tube of sunscreen. It all went by in rainbow haze of world-class horseflesh, high-flying jockeys, and Jamaican jerk chicken, so forgive me if I get things a little bit confused.

Was the Mike Smith who won Saturday's $400,000 Smile Handicap aboard Orientate the same Mike Smith who steered Came Home to victory in the $500,000 Swaps Stakes on Sunday? Talk about interstate commerce.

"Bailey asked me if I needed a race to warm up," Smith said as he waited for Orientate in the Calder walking ring, steam rising from every pore. It was a quarter past four. "I told him 10 minutes in the post parade and you're plenty warmed up here."

In California, we have a dry heat, so I am fairly certain it was Calder that sprung a vicious leak, part way through the Summit of Speed. The skies opened up for the 70 seconds or so it took a nice filly named Bold World to turn the $250,000 Azalea Stakes into a solo act under Calvin Borel.

"The rain actually helps this track," said Jerry Bailey. "Tightens up the sand."

Actually, the downpour inspired Bailey, who lost the first two Summit stakes races, toweled off, then proceeded to win the final two races on the program.

One of them was a pleasant surprise, at least for Bailey. Asked before the race if he had a shot to beat Xtra Heat with Gold Mover, the Hall of Famer shrugged.

"I don't think I can outrun her," Bailey said. "But if for some reason she doesn't like the track, I'm on the filly who could beat her."

As it turned out, Xtra Heat like the sandy Calder track just fine. It was a combination of Vague Memory's pressure on the pace and a 127-115 difference in the weights that beat the champion filly.

"She's a great filly, to carry all that weight," said Mark Hennig's traveling lad, Jose Sanchez, as he grazed Gold Mover in the tropical twilight. He was nodding toward Xtra Heat's stall, where Javier Cruz was doing up her legs, but how would Sanchez know about greatness? All he did was take care of Skip Away for Sonny Hine.

The Summit of Speed is a terrific concept that allows the national limelight to shine on an ambitious regional track for at least an afternoon. Racing secretary Bob Umphrey was cursing the weather - "I had three five-furlong turf races with full fields ready to go," he moaned - but nearly 10,000 fans made tidy Calder hum anyway.

On the other side of the continent, the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup went to a horse who should have been dead, ridden by a guy who gets into movies for half price, and raised by people who will never be mistaken for the Maktoums.

"There could be a problem now with those bumper stickers that say, 'Where the hell is Temecula?,' " said trainer Doug O'Neill, who at age 34 won the biggest race of his budding career with Sky Jack for patrons Rene and Margie Lambert.

As a destination, the inland Southern California community of Temecula will never be confused with Saint-Tropez, although they've got a great Home Depot.

As proprietors of a burgeoning Thoroughbred nursery, however, Temeculans are beginning to see their horses rival the best that California has to offer.

It has been 22 years since Sky Jack's sire, Jaklin Klugman, threw a scare into the 1980 Kentucky Derby by taking the field dangerously deep into the stretch before finishing third to Genuine Risk. Sky Jack has the same gray coat and the same homegrown tenacity as his papa. He also has a medical rap sheet as long as his luxuriant tail, including a bout with colic so serious that he was nearly a lost cause.

"When he won the Native Diver, I thought I was on the best horse in the country," said Laffit Pincay, referring to Sky Jack's benchmark performance back in December of 2000. "I couldn't believe it when they told me he almost died."

It was not the only close call. One week before the Gold Cup, Patrick O'Neill, the family's 69-year-old patriarch, underwent heart surgery for the installation of a pacemaker. Man, did it get a road test.

"He's been on borrowed time," said Dennis O'Neill, Doug's older brother and close advisor. "We told him he had to get it done before the Gold Cup, and we weren't kidding. In the box after the race, when we were all going wild, I looked over at Dad and he was just sitting there, smiling, with a tear running down his face."

For his part, Doug O'Neill was having a hard time believing any of it was happening. When Sky Jack's nose hit the wire just in front of Momentum's, the trainer was suddenly part of the history of the race, on the coattails of a miracle horse and a 55-year-old jockey who had just won the Gold Cup for a record ninth time.

"He is amazing," O'Neill said, reciting the game's common Pincay mantra. "He's still so youthful, even though he's old enough to be . . ."

O'Neill's voice caught briefly, as if another thought had intruded. Then he finished.

". . . my father."