09/17/2003 11:00PM

Quest Star: Versatile one for Walden

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Even though Quest Star was beaten a half-length in the Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park two starts back, trainer Elliott Walden liked what he saw. Quest Star demonstrated a willingness to relax off the front-runners before launching a determined run, proving the colt had yet another dimension.

"He's probably one of the most versatile horses I've ever trained," said Walden. "He's run a mile in under 1:34 before, and he's won going 1 1/2 miles. Heck, I'd even love to run him on the dirt but haven't really gotten a chance yet."

Quest Star, a 4-year-old Broad Brush colt, could put his versatility to optimum use Saturday in the $200,000 Kentucky Cup Turf at Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Ky. Walden, who will drive from Louisville to saddle horses for three of the four Turf Festival races, believes he has an excellent chance to have a productive day, culminating with Quest Star in the Turf.

"He's as good as it gets right now, and he can do pretty much anything you ask of him," said Walden. "I think he's got a great chance to win."

Lightnin N Thunder retired

Lightnin N Thunder, the WinStar Farm colt who finished second behind stablemate Tiger Hunt in the Sept. 1 Cradle Stakes at River Downs, has been retired after exiting the race with a fractured sesamoid, said Walden.

Lightnin N Thunder, by Storm Cat, won just once, but "he'll make a good stud horse somewhere," said Walden. "His pedigree is too good."

Meanwhile, Walden said he intends to run Tiger Hunt, owned by Team Valor, and Victory Light, a gelding owned by WinStar, as an uncoupled entry in the Oct. 4 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.

Ipi Tombe back in training

Ipi Tombe, the international star who missed her major summer races because of a minor tendon injury, returned to training Thursday at Churchill Downs, said Walden.

"She jogged real easy," he said. "That's about all she'll do for about a month. We're hoping to have her ready to run early next year down at Gulfstream."

Ipi Tombe won her first and only start in the United States, the Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill in late June. She was scheduled to run in the Diana at Saratoga and Beverly D. at Arlington before her setback.

Distance may help Red Lightning

Since hitting his career high last year by winning the KC Turf Dash, Red Lightning has failed to finish better than fourth in five starts since.

"He's been kind of a tough-luck horse," said trainer Jeff Thornbury. "Actually, we're hoping the six furlongs is what gets him back on track. Almost all of these kinds of races are at 5 or 5 1/2 furlongs, so we've really been looking forward to getting him back at this distance."

New York sites fuel handle

Handle from all sources through the first three cards at the seven-day Kentucky Downs meet was up roughly 50 percent, and track officials have the politicians of New York to thank.

The majority of the increase is directly traceable to revised regulations in New York that now permit a greater number of imported simulcasts in offtrack outlets.

"It's been to our direct benefit," said Mary Troilo, who serves as simulcast director for Kentucky Downs and Turfway Park.

After Saturday, Kentucky Downs will run its final three cards on consecutive days, ending Tuesday. Dark days in New York (Monday and Tuesday) generally prove a boon to smaller tracks because horseplayers are more apt to concentrate on them.

Fields comparable, purses down

Although the fields in all four Turf Festival races appear to compare favorably with those from prior years, the event probably did lose some of its clout last month when Kentucky Downs officials announced that combined purses were being lowered from $700,000 to $500,000.

Ryan Driscoll, general manager of Kentucky Downs, said he "put a lot of time and thought" into how to engineer a purse cut necessitated primarily by sluggish off-season simulcasting business. "We could have trimmed back purses on our overnight races, but this seemed like the lesser of two evils," said Driscoll.

The $200,000 Turf formerly had been worth $300,000, and the $100,000 Mile formerly was $200,000.