02/25/2005 1:00AM

Time for two to step up

Maddalena, John Velazquez up, stays undefeated with a victory in the Feb. 5 Old Hat Stakes.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainers John Ward Jr. and Rusty Arnold could have waited for a second-level allowance race for their promising 3-year-old fillies Little Money Down and Letgomyecho, both of whom have already posted first-level allowance victories here this winter.

Instead, they have decided not to wait any longer before testing the waters and sending their young speedsters up against the mighty Maddalena in next Saturday's Grade 2 Stonerside Forward Gal Stakes.

Ward's Little Money Down bounced back from a fifth-place finish in her career debut to post a pair of wire-to-wire victories, including a game half-length decision over Bird Harbor here on Feb. 13. Letgomyecho is undefeated and untested for Arnold after two starts, winning her maiden by 5 1/2 lengths at Calder on New Year's Day and an entry-level allowance dash by four lengths here earlier this month.

Little Money Down, a daughter of West Acre, tuned up for her stakes debut with an easy five-furlong work Friday at Gulfstream that Ward said he timed in "1:03 and change." Track clockers timed her four furlongs in 52.20. Jorge Chavez, who rode the filly to her local victory, was aboard for the drill, which came shortly after the second renovation break.

"The work this morning was slow by design," said Ward who trains Little Money Down for his main client, John Oxley. "She's coming off a nine-and-change race less than two weeks ago, so I don't think I need to do too much training with her."

Little Money Down has led throughout in both of her victories, but she will have her hands full with the Todd Pletcher-trained Maddalena, who has also been on the lead in every start.

"With Pletcher's filly in there, she'll have plenty to chase after in this race," said Ward. "I know she'll go seven furlongs without any problem. I also have her nominated to the [1 1/8-mile] Bonnie Miss, but stepping her up in stakes company around two turns would be an even bigger leap, and I'm for being on the conservative side. I'm not going into this race thinking I've got Todd's horse to beat. I like to think he's got to beat me."

Ward was coming off his best day of the meet, having sent out another pair of Oxley-owned fillies, Seek a Star and My Dear Lady, to victories on Wednesday.

Letgomyecho was scheduled to have her final work for the seven-furlong Stonerside at Palm Meadows on Saturday, weather permitting.

"If it rains and we have to push the work to Sunday, it will not matter," said Arnold, who trains Letgomyecho for the Dixiana Farm. "This filly hasn't made any mistakes yet, but obviously this will be a big step up, especially running against a filly like Todd's. But it's the next logical step, and the further she'll go the better, according to her pedigree."

The Forward Gal is coming up one of the best races next Saturday. Along with Maddaleana, Letgomyecho, and Little Money Down, the field will include Hot Storm, winner of the Sunshine Millions Oaks at Santa Anita. Trainer Dallas Stewart shipped her here from his Fair Grounds base earlier this month to prepare for the race.

Eddington works for Gulf Handicap

Trainer Mark Hennig pushed up Eddington's final work for the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap 24 hours to avoid the potential rain forecast here for Friday afternoon and Saturday. Eddington worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 Friday morning.

Eddington is coming off a third-place finish, less than a length behind the runner-up, Roses in May, in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap.

"I thought he ran an incredible race considering it was the first time he'd ever competed in a stakes against older horses and he didn't scope well coming out of the race," said Hennig. "He had a lot of mucus, but he snapped out of it okay. I don't think he ran his best race in the Donn."

Eddington will likely be one of the favorites in the Gulfstream Park Handicap field, which could also include Contante, Pies Prospect, Zakocity, and Second of June.

Sweet Catomine nominated just in case

The most surprising name on the nomination sheets for next Saturday's five graded stakes was that of Sweet Catomine. The reigning 2-year-old filly champion, was nominated to both the Fountain of Youth and Bonnie Miss stakes by her trainer, Julio Canani.

"Right now I'm playing it by ear and everything depends upon the weather," Canani said Friday from California when asked if there was any chance he would send his star filly east to compete in one of the two races. "If it continues to rain out here, we'll have to see."

Sweet Catomine, stabled at Santa Anita, launched her 3-year-old campaign with an easy win in Santa Anita's Grade 3 Santa Ysabel Stakes on Jan. 16.