08/24/2010 2:56PM

Evans made call to stretch A Little Warm out in distance

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Barbara D. Livingston
Ed Evans, owner-breeder of A Little Warm, a top contender in Saturday's Travers.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Tony Dutrow always felt A Little Warm was among the top 3-year-olds in the country. He just thought it was going to be in sprint races.

So when Dutrow thinks about running the probable favorite for Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes at 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga, he is quick to credit owner/breeder Ed Evans and the decision he made to try the horse in the Louisiana Derby in March. Though A Little Warm got beat that day – he was second to Mission Impazible – it solidified Evans’s faith that A Little Warm was a distance horse.

“Mr. Evans in my opinion is solely responsible for this horse being where he’s at,” Dutrow said Tuesday morning at Saratoga. “He’s the one that pushed for the Louisiana Derby. If I had owned I him I did not do that, but because he ran so well in the Louisiana Derby that kept him on the road that he was on.”

That road has already included a solid 1 3/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 31, A Little Warm’s first victory in a graded stakes.

Evans, 68, credits the Hall of Fame jockey Angel Cordero for convincing him to try the horse in route races. Evans recalled standing alongside Cordero on a February morning at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida while A Little Warm trained.

“Cordero said the horse will run all day,” Evans said. “What the hell, you can’t question Cordero.”

Cordero is the agent for jockey John Velazquez, who has been aboard A Little Warm for his last two races and who will be back aboard A Little Warm in the Travers, a race Velazquez won in 2005 with Flower Alley.

While this will be Dutrow’s first appearance in the Travers, Evans is back with the favorite for the second straight year. Last year, Evans watched Quality Road weaken in the mud to third as the 3-2 Travers favorite behind Summer Bird. It was only Quality Road’s second start in six months after he was forced to miss the Triple Crown series to foot issues.

A Little Warm also missed the spring classics. After running second in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, A Little Warm did not have sufficient graded stakes earnings to make it into the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. On April 27, when A Little Warm arrived at Delaware Park following a van ride from Palm Meadows, A Little Warm had a temperature and missed a few days of training.

Any hopes of making the Preakness were eliminated when A Little Warm bled in a workout at Delaware Park on May 10, five days before the race. Missing the classics a second consecutive year was frustrating to Evans.

“I had practice,” said Evans, the son of Thomas Mellon Evans who campaigned 1981 Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony.

Dutrow gave A Little Warm ample time to get over his bleeding episode. A plan was devised with hopes of making the major stakes races in the summer. It began with a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Delaware Park on June 29 in which A Little Warm beat the Nick Zito-trained Miner’s Reserve by 2 1/4 lengths, earning a 105 Beyer Speed Figure.

“That led to us to the Jim Dandy feeling great and he stepped it up again where at the eighth pole you were knowing we’re off to the Travers,” Dutrow said.

The Jim Dandy was almost a carbon copy of the Delaware allowance race, with A Little Warm stalking Miner’s Reserve before taking over at the eighth pole and edging clear.

A victory in the Travers would help Evans continue a strong Saratoga meet. Evans has won 5 races from 9 starters here this summer, including the Grade 1 Ruffian with Malibu Prayer, who will run back in Sunday’s $300,000 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park.

Evans has also sent out several good-looking 2-year-olds this meet, including Summer Laugh, a daughter of Distorted Humor out of Evans’s Grade 1-winning mare Summer Colony. Summer Laugh, who won her debut by 6 1/2 lengths, will run in the Grade 1 Spinaway on Sept. 5. Evans has also won with the debuting colt Curlinello and the filly Street Chimes.

Still, there is one painful loss that still stings, Quality Road’s second to Blame in the Grade 1 Whitney.

“I didn’t think the trip we had was as good as it could’ve been,” Evans said. “I’m hoping we make up for that race in the Woodward. I’d be very happy to win the Travers, and if Quality Road comes back in the Woodward like I hope, I’d be feeling good all around.”