02/18/2004 1:00AM

Cloud Walker stirs high hopes


NEW ORLEANS - In his first two starts Cloud Walker outran the opposition from start to finish. He won his career debut by seven lengths and came back a month later to beat entry-level allowance horses by seven, running a faster six-furlong time than stakes horses did a race later. Cloud Walker's brilliance was obvious, and when he started again 20 days later, the general sense was that this horse could not lose.

But on Jan. 31 fell back to earth. Facing horses far better than those he had beaten, Cloud Walker made things even tougher by breaking slowly. He raced close to a swift pace, came home evenly, and checked in third. So much for the undefeated career. But even in losing, Cloud Walker ran well enough to make himself a strong favorite in Friday's featured eighth race, a six-furlong, second-level allowance race.

The allowance condition is all-important. When last he ran, Cloud Walker met stakes-level sprinters. His trainer, Tom Amoss, wanted to enter Cloud Walker in a second-level allowance, but the race failed to fill, and rather than shipping to Oaklawn, he took a shot with higher-class horses.

"It was a domino effect," Amoss said. "Not having a race for him here, I put him in a tougher spot. Then, breaking that way didn't help him."

In losing, however, Cloud Walker probably learned more than he did coasting to easy victories his first two starts. "It'll be interesting to see if he'll be more professional when he runs."

Cloud Walker has worked twice since his defeat, turning in a swift five-furlong breeze of 1:00.40 on Feb. 16, the fastest of 79 works at the distance that morning. And he has a new rider on Friday, Robby Albarado.

Six other horses were entered, including two - and Cherokee Fighter - who went to Oaklawn Park for the second-level sprint allowance that Amoss eschewed. That race was Jan. 30, and My Master, an Argentine import, showed more in it than he did in a turf sprint race here Dec. 19, his first start in this country. My Master's form looks progressive, and he might be Cloud Walker's chief rival.

Not without a chance is Second Tuesday, who has not raced since November, but turned in several sharp performances last season. David Carroll, Second Tuesday's trainer, has won with 7 of 22 starters at the meet, and Second Tuesday displays a formidable string of published works for this comeback start.