07/11/2002 12:00AM

This Queen is also a pro speed bunny


MIAMI - Okay, so there wasn't exactly a brass band waiting on the tarmac at Opa Locka Airport, or a ticker tape parade down N.W. 27th Ave. to the entrance gates of Calder Race Course. Apparently, the mayor of Miami was otherwise occupied, and all the news choppers were grounded, because of a big black cloud on the western horizon.

But none of that mattered to the Queen. Unflappable, undaunted and usually uncatchable, Xtra Heat sauntered off a Tex Sutton van at 11 o'clock Thursday morning with Javier Cruz at her side and new worlds to conquer. She was dry as a bone after a zigzag flight that began five hours earlier, taking her from Baltimore to Louisville and finally to suburban Miami, where she will be running on Saturday at her fifth different track this year.

As if she cared. With her tail wrapped tight and her legs thickly swaddled in bright orange polos, Xtra Heat strolled through the Calder backstretch like she lived there, past the potted palms and the drooping bottle brush trees, the blue and white awnings shading the concrete barns, to the shed row of local trainer Tim Ritvo.

"I've only seen her on TV," said Ritvo, who has clients in common with John Salzman, the trainer and part owner of Xtra Heat. "She looks a lot bigger in the flesh, and so beautifully balanced."

"The stall, enough straw?" asked Ritvo's foreman, Mario Luna, as Cruz led Xtra Heat into number 20. "I used four bales."

The stall, said Cruz, was just fine. Xtra Heat is not a tall filly at all, and her legs disappeared in the thick, golden bedding as she circled, looking for a little relief.

"She likes to fly, I think," said Cruz, who traveled with Xtra Heat on the plane. "It's something else for her to do."

That's Xtra Heat, professional busybody, and the only Thoroughbred mare roaming around North America who gets to call herself a champion, what with Tempera dead, Gourmet Girl retired, and Banks Hill still racing abroad.

From the hills of Maryland to the desert of Dubai, her name has become synonymous with killer speed and efficient travel. Now Xtra Heat finds herself in south Florida, in the middle of July, no less, dodging thunderheads and water spouts to lead the field in $400,000 Princess Rooney Handicap at six furlongs.

The Princess Rooney, named for the champion mare who once called Calder home, is the final act of Saturday's third version of the $1.3 million Summit of Speed. As the brainchild of racing secretary Bob Umphrey, the Summit invites the fastest possible horses with the highest tolerance for debilitating humidity to run in one of four six-furlong races, and they have showed up this year in force, coming from some of the best stables in New York, California, and Kentucky.

For Xtra Heat, the Princess Rooney is a natural. It is the richest sprint race in North America designed exclusively for fillies and mares. This year she already has won the Interborough, the Barbara Fritchie, the Genuine Risk, and the Vagrancy (carrying as much as 128 pounds along the way) and finished third in Dubai's Golden Shaheen to the geldings Caller One and Echo Eddie.

"I tried to turn her out after Dubai," said Salzman, who arrived at Ritvo's barn on the heels of his mare. "I had her in a paddock at the farm, with deep, beautiful grass. She'd pick at it for maybe 15 minutes, then start running the fence. She lost a shoe that way.

"I figured if she's going to run the fence and lose weight, I might as well run her," Salzman added. So he did, winning the Genuine Risk and the Vagrancy since their trip to the Middle East.

The arrival of Xtra Heat put the finishing touches on two sprint fields that are top heavy with imported talent. Gold Mover will try the champ again, getting the same 12 pounds she got from Xtra Heat in the Vagrancy when she lost by a neck. The Smile Handicap, offering $400,000 for the males, will match Echo Eddie, Orientate, and Crafty C.T.

"It's like a homecoming for me," said Howie Zucker, who trains California-based Crafty C.T. "I remember staying at a place on the beach for $2.50 a night. Off season."

By now it is clear that Xtra Heat is a filly for all seasons, and all racetracks. Purchased for $5,000, she has banked more than $1.8 million while winning 21 of 27 starts. In 19 races at 6 1/2 furlongs or less, she has yet to be beaten by another filly or mare. A lot of things have to go right for a racehorse to maintain such a record. Even the weather was in her corner for her trip to steamy Florida.

"It's been a hundred degrees back home," Salzman said. "This shouldn't bother her at all. It might even be a little cooler."

So how do you beat the heat? Cold towels? Electrolytes? SPF 100?

"Stay out of the sun," was Howie Zucker's advice.

Or stay off the summit. Until a faster mare comes around, it belongs to Xtra Heat.