10/16/2003 12:00AM

Tiger Hunt entered after all

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The ink on the winner's circle photo wasn't even dry when the connections of Tiger Hunt, winner of the Sept. 1 Cradle Stakes at River Downs, had dismissed the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as a possible target for their colt.

"The Breeders' Cup? I don't think so,'' said Barry Irwin, president of Team Valor Stables, the syndicate that owns Tiger Hunt. "We're going to think about the first Saturday in May. Why wouldn't you?''

Much has transpired in the six weeks since Irwin made his pronouncement. With the connections of the winners of the Hopeful (Silver Wagon), Champagne (Birdstone), Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (Eurosilver), and Norfolk (Ruler's Court) all skipping the Breeders' Cup, Irwin felt it wise to reconsider his position.

Tiger Hunt on Thursday was one of 15 horses pre-entered for this year's Juvenile, which will be run Oct. 25 at Santa Anita Park. The purse of the Juvenile was raised 50 percent to $1.5 million this year, but nine of the 15 horses remain eligible for an entry-level allowance race.

As are all Breeders' Cup races, the Juvenile is limited to 14 starters. Mambo Train was relegated to the alternate list and would need one defection to get into the field. Entries will be taken on Wednesday and there will not be an also-eligible list.

Irwin said it was the defections of four major stakes winners that prompted him to reverse course and pre-enter Tiger Hunt in the Juvenile.

"Things have changed; it's not the same race,'' Irwin said. "The reason we're doing it is we think we have a very good horse. If we win it we could have the 2-year-old champion. There shouldn't be as much pressure on him as in a regular Breeders' Cup. Not that these horses can't run, but there aren't as many of them. Our horse still has a lot to prove, but this is a hell of a lot more palatable and tantalizing than it was five or six weeks ago.''

Tiger Hunt, a son of Kris S. trained by Elliott Walden, is 2 for 3, having won his maiden in July going six furlongs at Churchill and then taking the 1 1/16-mile Cradle at River Downs. In the Grade 2 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, Tiger Hunt was far back in eighth position early, encountered traffic entering the far turn, and closed well to be second, 4 3/4 lengths behind Eurosilver.

"Just exactly what we thought would happen,'' Irwin said. "We haven't hammered this horse. Even though he won a sprint first time out he doesn't have a lot of early speed naturally. And we don't want to put it in him because that would defeat what we want to accomplish.''

Cuvee, who is 4 for 5, including dominant victories in the Grade 1 Futurity at Belmont and the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, is likely to favored in the Juvenile. Cactus Ridge, winner of the Arlington Futurity; Chapel Royal, the Sanford winner; and Siphonizer, the Del Mar Futurity winner, are the only other graded stakes winners in the field.

Pat Day, who has won the Juvenile twice, will take over for Larry Melancon on Tiger Hunt.

In other Juvenile developments:

* Trainer Aidan O'Brien pre-entered Grand Reward and Old Deuteronomy but did not commit to running both of them. "It's only possible that both will run,'' said O'Brien, who won the 2001 Juvenile with Johannesburg and ran third last year with Hold That Tiger. "At the moment, Grand Reward is the favored one to run.''

Should O'Brien enter only one, that would enable Mambo Train, a maiden winner on turf, to get into the field.