07/28/2003 12:00AM

Stalking Tiger tries to win three in row


DEL MAR, Calif. - Investing in Stalking Tiger has been a lot better than the stock market. Bettors who have backed him in both his starts have cashed tickets for $12.80 and $5.60. Paul Aguirre, who bought Stalking Tiger at auction for $4,700, turned a nice profit by selling Stalking Tiger privately following his debut victory against maiden claimers on May 29 at Hollywood Park.

And David Milch, who spearheaded the partnership that purchased Stalking Tiger, received an immediate dividend when Stalking Tiger won Hollywood's Haggin Stakes in his second start on June 21.

Stalking Tiger will try to continue to please both the public and his connections on Wednesday at Del Mar, when he goes for his third straight victory in the $125,000 Graduation Stakes, a 5 1/2-furlong dash for 2-year-old California-breds.

His rise, like his races, has been swift. Stalking Tiger won his debut by 4 1/2 lengths, then won the Haggin by three.

"I thought he'd win first time out," said Aguirre, who has continued as trainer of Stalking Tiger despite the purchase by Milch and partners John Davis and Al Rocchio. "But I didn't know if he'd be a horse of this quality. He was kind of nervous before he ran. After that, he got very relaxed, which is out of the ordinary for a 2-year-old."

Milch, a television producer, brought in a couple of racetrack buddies for the Stalking Tiger partnership. Davis is a horseplayer, and Rocchio is a mutuel teller.

Goncalino Almeida has been aboard Stalking Tiger for his first two starts and is back aboard on Wednesday. Aguirre expects another good performance from Stalking Tiger, a gelding by Twin Spires.

"I think he'll be pretty tough to beat," Aguirre said Monday morning. "He's improving, but some of the others in the race are probably improving, too."

Stalking Tiger's main rival figures to be Alpenfest, who is also unbeaten after two starts at Hollywood Park. Alpenfest beat open maidens in his debut on May 1, then won the Willard Proctor Stakes on May 18. Mike Harrington, who trains Alpenfest, also will send out Dad's Lesson, a winner of his lone start against maidens on July 16 at Hollywood. Harrington's runners race as separate betting interests.

Lil' Bro Eddie will be making the ninth start of his career, but only his second for trainer Jeff Mullins and owner Richard Englander. They claimed Lil' Bro Eddie for $40,000 out of a maiden-claiming victory on June 18, then sent him to Pleasanton, where he won the Alameda County Futurity on July 4.

Don'tsellmeshort had a rough trip as the favorite in the Haggin and will be looking to avenge that loss to Stalking Tiger.