09/05/2005 12:00AM

Hot young colt needs to chill


DEL MAR, Calif. - It doesn't take much to spook a racehorse. A light breeze, an off-key whisper, the glint of sunlight bouncing off the face of a wristwatch. Anything can set them off.

Eoin Harty still is not sure what flipped A.P. Warrior's switch as the colt made his way through the Del Mar grandstand tunnel to join the post parade for the Best Pal Stakes last Aug. 14. In fact, Harty and owner Stan Fulton were blissfully unaware of their colt's mad panic, having bade him farewell in the walking ring before working their way through the crowd to the second floor box seats.

"I heard Trevor Denman making an announcement, but I didn't pay any attention," Harty said. "Then he came on again and said if you had A.P. Warrior in your pick six or your pick four, your choice automatically goes to the favorite. I thought, 'What the hell is he talking about?' "

The grim truth became apparent when Harty caught sight of the tote board. A.P. Warrior's number had gone blank. Jockey Garrett Gomez was on the ground, and the runaway colt was being collared by an outrider.

"The light was out on the board, and the lights were out on my jockey," Harty said. "That was a tough afternoon."

A.P. Warrior could take a chill-out lesson from Declan's Moon, the 2004 Del Mar Futurity winner and Eclipse Award champion who is on his way back to the races after minor knee surgery knocked him out of competition last March. Trainer Ron Ellis has targeted the Malibu Stakes on Santa Anita's opening day, Dec. 26, as a primary target and will be looking for a prep along the way.

Last week, Declan's Moon was in the midst of a half-mile drill at Santa Anita when the loose-horse siren began to blare. Declan's Moon didn't turn a hair.

"As it turned out, the loose horse was on the training track," Ellis said. "Nothing bothers our horse. But the rider stood up, just in case, then went back to riding once he realized there was no danger on the main track."

While Declan's Moon is a gelding, A.P. Warrior is very much a colt. Expectations are high, and have been from the moment his dam, Warrior Queen, was pronounced in foal to the cover of A.P. Indy, in March of 2002.

In November of 2002, Warrior Queen was sold in foal to Australian breeder Jim Fleming for $2 million. The following February, Warrior Queen gave birth to a colt, one of more than 37,000 registered North American foals. Then on Sept. 14, 2004, the son of Warrior Queen and A.P. Indy entered the Keeneland sales ring wearing hip number 422, and left the ring the property of Stan Fulton, owner of Sunland Park, for $1.3 million.

A.P. Warrior looked worth every nickel on July 17 at Hollywood Park when he cruised home by four lengths in a five-furlong maiden event. Harty immediately laid plans for a Del Mar campaign that would begin with the Best Pal and be climaxed by the Del Mar Futurity on closing day.

So much for plans.

"It's been my experience that if a young horse is going to do something like that, it will be in his second race, since they haven't got a clue what's happening first time out," Harty said, referring to A.P. Warrior's antics before the Best Pal. "Fortunately, neither horse nor rider were hurt. But the only person who could put a positive spin on something like that is Bill Clinton, and he's a Rhodes scholar."

A.P. Warrior shrugged off the incident and went right back to work, turning in three solid five-furlong moves under Harty's watch at Santa Anita. The colt returned to Del Mar early Sunday morning, promising to behave himself this time when he is part of a big field in Wednesday's 58th running of the Del Mar Futurity, at seven furlongs.

Like most kids, A.P. Warrior has probably forgotten all about the Best Pal incident. Like most diligent trainers, Harty was determined to make sure. The problem, it seemed, was in the hand-off from the groom to the pony near the mouth of the tunnel.

"The first day he went back to the track, we led him up to the pony, and we've been taking him with the pony every day since," Harty said Sunday, shortly after the colt arrived from Santa Anita. "Now that he's back here, I can take him through the paddock and into the tunnel, then lead him right up to the pony, just like he'll be doing in the race."

Although he has yet to win a Del Mar Futurity, Harty has experience to burn. He was Bob Baffert's assistant in developing four straight Futurity winners, from 1996 through 1999. Then, in the 2000 running, he sent out Street Cry to battle the Baffert-trained Flame Thrower in a memorable duel. Flame Thrower won it by a head.

For the first time since 1994, Baffert will be without a starter in the Futurity. That, however, is the least of A.P. Warrior's concerns. A colt with talent to burn, he need only make it through the tunnel in one piece, then he'll have a chance to prove that he's worth all the anticipation.