11/04/2003 1:00AM

Team Valor picks Nicks

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ralph Nicks, who spent 14 years as an assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, on Tuesday was named private trainer for Team Valor, according to Barry Irwin, president of the the far-flung North American ownership syndicate.

With a few exceptions, including the star turf mare Ipi Tombe, all of the Team Valor horses in training soon will come under the care of Nicks, who resigned last year from the Mott stable to work as an agent for jockey Mark Guidry. The Team Valor horses, including the promising 2-year-old Tiger Hunt, will be based at Oaklawn Park this winter, although future headquarters will be split between the Palm Meadows training center in Florida in winter and the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga for most of the rest of the year.

Ipi Tombe, owned partly by Team Valor, will remain under the care of trainer Elliott Walden, whose main client, WinStar Farm, is the mare's majority owner. Several other horses based in California also will remain with their trainers, but most of the stable's current runners, and all future acquisitions, will be trained by Nicks, 36.

Team Valor has had 44 horses compete for 21 different trainers this year, and Irwin said having one trainer will simplify matters for him and his clients. Consolidating at the Oklahoma facility, Irwin said, "Will allow us to have all our horses in one locale and to have them train where they have their best chance to stay sound. We consider the Oklahoma track to have the best surface in the land."

Irwin said he chose Oaklawn over Gulfstream for an upcoming winter campaign for Tiger Hunt "because the colt figures to be better suited to the strip." Walden, who formerly trained Tiger Hunt, is based in Florida each winter.

Under Mott, Nicks worked closely with dozens of top horses, most notably Cigar, the all-time leading money earner in racing history. Nicks initially will have about 15 horses for Team Valor at Oaklawn, but that number will have increased to about 35 by the time he moves to Saratoga next spring. Nicks primarily worked for Mott in Kentucky, although he spent each winter in Florida. He is the son of Kentucky-based trainer Morris Nicks.

Team Valor, founded in 1987 by Irwin and Jeff Siegel, is one of the most successful syndicates in racing history, having raced such stars as Prized, Star of Cozzene, Captain Bodgit, The Deputy, and Golden Ballet.