11/19/2004 12:00AM

Quest Star looks for River City upset

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Benoit & Associates
Honor in War, here with David Flores after winning last year's Arlington Handicap, came out of the prep race for the River City with a lung infection.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Elliott Walden has no trouble right here in River City. Even with just one win at the Churchill Downs fall meet and an overall 2004 that pales in comparison to some of his better years, Walden says he is "happier than ever."

That feeling could get a boost Sunday when Walden sends out Quest Star for an upset of the $150,000 River City Handicap. In the Nov. 5 prep for the race, Quest Star led throughout to win with authority. Sunday, the 5-year-old horse will face a much tougher task when he is part of a full field in the Grade 3 River City, which will be run at 1 1/8 miles on turf.

"Hopefully he can duplicate that last one," said Walden, a four-time leading trainer at Churchill. "He likes this turf course, and he's won races a lot of different ways. He really seems to like it when he's able to dictate the circumstances."

Quest Star, with Larry Melancon to ride, figures as a factor up front after he breaks from post 11 in the River City, a well-matched race that has Honor in War as the 118-pound highweight. Honor in War was uncharacteristically dull in the Nov. 5 prep, trailing most of the trip, although trainer Paul McGee said a lung infection probably accounted for the poor effort. Pat Day gets the mount Sunday.

Other notables in the River City are the 7-year-old Dr. Kashnikow, a John R.S. Fisher trainee who won the River City in 2001 and 2002; G P Fleet, a versatile 4-year-old who seems to do his best running at Churchill; a capable pair of Canadian invaders, French Lieutenant and Dumaani Star;

and Tam's Terms, a hard-trying Maryland-bred with 10 wins from 25 starts. In all, 13 are entered, including also-eligible Deputy Strike.

As for Quest Star, a Grade 2 winner who has earned nearly $800,000 for owner Frank Mansell, he is one of Walden's few current stars. Stable earnings in 2004 are about $1.4 million, well short of Walden's career high of $7.25 million in 1999.

"I'm certainly not worried about the direction our stable is headed in," said Walden, who won the River City in 1994 with Lindon Lime and 2000 with Brahms. "Sometimes it's the darkest before the light."

The River City is the ninth of 10 races on a program that also includes the $70,800 Grand Canyon (race 7), for 2-year-olds on turf, and two allowances (races 4 and 8).