10/13/2004 11:00PM

No dream: A real live runner

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Dream of Summer will be jumping into deep water Saturday when she tries a distance of ground for the first time in the $150,000 California Cup Matron against the likes of Yearly Report, Royally Chosen, and Summer Wind Dancer.

But fear not. Jim Weigel, her owner and breeder, spent a career as a field engineer servicing sonar systems for a variety of international military and civilian clients. The man knows his way around the murky depths.

If she runs to her record, Dream of Summer will do just fine. She is a late-bloomer who did not make her first start until midway through her 4-year-old season, but since that day she has been - with one weird exception - as close to perfection as a racehorse can get.

Dream of Summer has won 6 of 7 starts on dirt, suffering that one loss by only a head in her second start. Her lone race on grass was a nightmare sprint at Del Mar in August of 2003 when Weigel and his trainer, Juan Garcia, were just glad to see jockey Mike Smith get their filly back in one piece.

"To this day, I don't think we really know what happened," Weigel recalled this week from his home in Santa Clarita. "She broke in the middle of the pack, started climbing, and then decided she was going to make a left turn. Mike saw someone coming up inside them, so he yanked her out to the right and she ended up in last. I thought she was hurt, but when they got to the top of the stretch - they were about 30 lengths behind - Mike sat her down and gave her a little workout."

Dream of Summer survived the ordeal and has not lost a race since. In her two most recent appearances, she won the A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park and the Rancho Bernardo Handicap at Del Mar, efforts that have brought her to the attention of Kentucky bloodstock scouts. Not bad for a mare who couldn't draw a bid of more than $7,000 as an October yearling at the 2000 Barretts sale in Pomona.

"It was near the end of the sale, and people kept disappearing," recalled Marianne Millard, who foaled and raised Dream of Summer for Weigel at her Here Tis Ranch in Hemet.

"I liked her so much that when they weren't bidding enough, I said, 'Jim, you're not selling her. I'll take her home without you.' "

When the bids went dead at $7,000, Weigel raised his hand and bought back his filly for $8,000. That was more than $300,000 ago.

"I'm just sorry I didn't tell Jim I'd pay half and go in partnership," Millard added.

Millard knows what it feels like to breed and race a great filly. She and her late partner, Bea Rous, were responsible for Melair, perhaps the fasted California-bred filly of the past 30 years. Millard hopes Weigel can enjoy some of the same thrills with Dream of Summer.

For those who believe in cosmic justice, he certainly deserves the ride. Six years ago, when Weigel was just shy of taking an early retirement, he suffered a stroke that left him partially disabled on his right side.

"I had trained my replacements and everything was set up," Weigel said. "So I was kind of kicking back and relaxing with only two months to the end of my tenure. That's when it happened."

Weigel's life is now occupied with treatments for the ongoing effects of the stroke, as well as the delights provided by his mare. He never misses a race.

"Sometimes I'm a little slow getting down to the winner's circle," Weigel said. "But I've never had any trouble yet."

Weigel, a 62-year-old native of Wisconsin, raced a number of horses in partnership before asking Millard to buy him a broodmare in 1996. For $7,000 he got Mary's Dream, an unraced daughter of Skywalker who became the dam of Dream of Summer.

Weigel would love to take credit for inventing the perfect name for his Southern California girl. Dream of Summer evokes images of surfboards and Beach Boys and endless days fading into soft crimson sunsets.

In reality, Dream of Summer merely combines the best lyrical elements of her her dam with her sire, Strub Stakes winner Siberian Summer. And Dream of Summer is Cal-bred through and through.

She hails from a female family that traces to Opening Bid, winner of the Oak Leaf at age 2, the Santa Susana (now Santa Anita Oaks) at 3 and the Milady Handicap at 4. In 1975, Opening Bid was bred to Rising Market, a fellow Californian of equal stature who won the San Felipe, the San Antonio, the Los Angeles Handicap, and the San Carlos twice. They produced stakes winner My Mary, who produced stakes winner Proper Mary, who in turn produced Mary's Dream.

With such a pedigree, Dream of Summer should hardly be troubled by the 1 1/16 miles of the Matron. Neither Garcia nor Smith harbor doubts, but Weigel, the skeptical technician, will believe it when he sees it.

"Her breeding says she should have been able to run on turf, too," Weigel said. "One thing I've learned about racing is that nobody knows for sure."