07/14/2010 6:15PM

A Little Warm flashes stakes potential with 106 Beyer


It has been a roller-coaster season for trainer Anthony Dutrow’s 3-year-old prospects.

Westover Wildcat, a stakes-winning sprinter at 2, finished third in the six-furlong Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 9 before going down with an injury to his right front foot.

After upsetting the Count Fleet Stakes over the Aqueduct inner track on Jan. 2, Laus Deo underwent throat surgery. He missed the important Triple Crown preps, but recently won a second-level optional claimer at Delaware Park.

Winslow Homer took the measure of the plucky Jackson Bend in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 23, but soon went under the knife after suffering a stress fracture to the cannon bone in the right foreleg. He sat out the Triple Crown and finished a well-beaten third in his return to the races in the Iowa Derby on June 26.

And then, there’s A Little Warm.

The start-and-stop career of A Little Warm received a boost on June 29 when the Edward Evans homebred took a second-level optional claimer going 1 1/16 miles at Delaware Park. He received a career-high 106 Beyer Speed Figure, a possible entry into the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on July 31, and this week’s “Performance of the Week” award.

A Little Warm only defeated three rivals at Delaware, but they were solid opposition. Miner’s Reserve, a Nick Zito-trained 3-year-old, had just earned a 96 Beyer when a facile entry-level allowance winner at Belmont. Bear’s Rocket, a 4-year-old, finished second in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes last year at Gulfstream. Strikewhileitshot, another 4-year-old, had hit the board in his last five races.

A Little Warm broke well under John Velazquez and they patiently pursued the pacesetting Miner’s Reserve while racing in the two-path. Miner’s Reserve got the first quarter in 23.80 seconds, but turned on the gas down the backstretch, running his second quarter in 22.85. A Little Warm stayed within striking range, however, and he collared Miner’s Reserve turning for home. The two raced in tandem until the eighth pole, but A Little Warm was too much, drawing away under left-handed urging to win by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:43.60.

Foaled in Virginia, A Little Warm is by Stormin Fever, a son of Storm Cat, who earned 12 triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures during his 21-race career. Stormin Fever’s big win came in the Grade 3 Sport Page Handicap going seven furlongs at Aqueduct. Stormin Fever won at distances ranging from six furlongs to a one-turn 1 1/16 miles.

The dam, Minidar (by Alydar), won 8 of 16 starts, including the Grade 3 Chicago Breeders’ Cup Handicap at seven furlongs with a 106 Beyer. Like A Little Warm and Stormin Fever, Minidar was an Evans homebred. She is a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Colonial Minstrel and multiple stakes winner Unrestrained ($281,513 in earnings).

A Little Warm’s second dam, Minstrella, won the Group 1 Tattersalls Cheveley Park Stakes on turf in England. She is a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Misty Gallore.

After his first three starts as a 2-year-old of 2009, A Little Warm didn’t look like he was on his way to becoming a stakes horse. He only received a 24 Beyer when a troubled second in his career debut going 4 1/2 furlongs at Philadelphia Park on June 9. Two more losses in maiden special weight company at Delaware followed before A Little Warm finally won on Nov. 23 at Philadelphia Park.

It was a breakthrough performance for the colt as A Little Warm stalked a fast pace while saving ground under Jeremy Rose before creeping up to the leaders under his own power on the turn. A Little Warm split horses three wide at the quarter pole and exploded to the front in a manner of strides. He won, geared down, by 10 3/4 lengths and ran the six furlongs in 1:09.97, good enough for an 89 Beyer. The runner-up that afternoon, Sonar, returned to win his maiden at Oaklawn Park.

Striking while the iron was hot, Dutrow entered his pupil in the Spectacular Bid Stakes at Gulfstream on Jan. 9. Racing over sloppy going, A Little Warm stalked the pace from the two path before angling four wide on the far turn. He made his final lead change a bit early, but was too much for his opponents in the stretch, winning by 1 1/2 lengths with a 100 Beyer. Two runners came back to win from the Spectacular Bid, including fourth-place finisher Discreetly Mine, the next-out winner of the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

A Little Warm then faced a tough sprinter in D’ Funnybone in the Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes on Feb. 20. After tracking the pace while three-wide, A Little Warm was sent up to prompt the pace four-wide on the turn. He was outpaced at that point by D’ Funnybone, however, but tried hard all the way to the wire in a game runner-up performance.

Dutrow needed to find out if A Little Warm could go two turns before he considered the spring classics. A Little Warm made his first start around two turns in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 27 and he ran a corker. A Little Warm went right to the front and set a pressured pace while down on the inside. Again, he made his final lead change a bit early, but gamely battled to the wire, dropping a three-quarter length decision ot Mission Impazible. Three horses returned from that race to win, including Dwyer winner Fly Down and Hotep, the runner-up in last week’s Queen’s Plate. Drosselmeyer, this year’s Belmont Stakes winner, finished behind A Little Warm in third.

A Little Warm didn’t have enough graded earnings to warrant a start in the Kentucky Derby so Dutrow pointed for the Grade 1 Preakness at Pimlico on May 15. A Little Warm came down with a temperature in the weeks before the race and then bled in a workout five days out. Dutrow withdrew A Little Warm from the second jewel of the Triple Crown to concentrate on a summer and fall campaign.

While A Little Warm did run well at the nine-furlong distance of the Louisiana Derby, some handicappers wonder if he’s a “tweener.” Instead of a true sprinter or 1 1/4-mile runner, A Little Warm may be best at middle distances such as one mile or 1 1/16 miles. His pedigree is that of a sprinter-miler.

If he does go in the Jim Dandy, he will surely face his toughest test to date but he seems back to his best game and the Dutrow barn deserves a little bit of good luck after the difficult Triple Crown season. A Little Warm bears watching this summer on the East Coast.