05/07/2003 11:00PM

Robert Walter, breeder, dead

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Robert H. Walter, 86, best known as the owner and breeder of 1996 Kentucky Derby runner-up, Cavonnier, died Wednesday night at his Vine Hill Ranch home in Sebastopol, Calif. The cause of death was acute leukemia, according to Tom Ferral, director of publicity at Bay Meadows.

Walter and his wife, Barbara, bred Cavonnier, who gave them their first Grade 1 victory in the 1996 Santa Anita Derby. Cavonnier, who also won the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows that year, was beaten a nose by Grindstone in the Kentucky Derby.

Cavonnier suffered a severely bowed tendon in the Belmont but later returned to the races and won the 1998 Ack Ack at Santa Anita.

Cavonnier was the 1996 California-bred horse of the year. Other top horses bred by the Walters included Batroyale, the top 2-year-old California-bred filly of 1995; Charm a Gendarme, the California-bred 2-year-old filly of the year in 1992; and Fagers Charm, the California broodmare of the year for 1993.

Walter also bred millionaires Tout Charmant and Lazy Slusan, as well as Charmonnier, who defeated Best Pal in the 1991 California Cup Classic.