Updated on 09/17/2011 12:19PM

Tiger Hunt wins, barn thinks Derby

Suzie Picou-Oldham
Tiger Hunt ($10.60) wins the 27th running of the $200,000 Cradle Stakes at River Downs on Monday.

CINCINNATI - After Tiger Hunt surged past stablemate Lightnin N Thunder to win the 27th running of the $200,000 Cradle Stakes at River Downs Monday, there was a cohesive thought running through the minds of the winner's connections.

"There's one for the Derby watch," said Elliott Walden, who trains the first two finishers.

"The Breeders' Cup? I don't think so," said Barry Irwin, president of the colt's owner, Team Valor. "We're going to think about the first Saturday in May. Why wouldn't you?"

If a horse with classic breeding and a long, late stride is the answer to hopes for the Kentucky Derby, then Irwin may have the right idea. Making just his second career start following a 24-1 upset in his July debut, Tiger Hunt erased a seven-length deficit in the final furlong of the Cradle to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths over Lightnin N Thunder, a Storm Cat colt owned by WinStar Farm.

Tiger Hunt, ridden by Larry Melancon, returned $10.60 as third choice and completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.60 over a good track. "At the head of the lane, I thought there was no way I'd catch [Lightnin N Thunder]," said Melancon. "But coming to the sixteenth pole, I thought I'd get him."

Tiger Hunt is by Kris S. out of the Conquistador Cielo mare Thega. After winning at six furlongs at Churchill Downs, Tiger Hunt went to Saratoga, where Walden entered him in a first-level allowance race during the first week of August. "It didn't fill, so we just started pointing to this," Walden said.

Since its formation in the late 1980's, Team Valor has been known for winning major races with proven horses, but Irwin gleefully noted that Tiger Hunt was purchased last summer for $170,000 at auction at Saratoga. "We don't always buy 'made' horses," he said.

Irwin speculated that Tiger Hunt could run next in the Oct. 5 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland.

Lightnin N Thunder, the 7-2 second choice, drew off to a huge lead in early stretch before tiring. He was not coupled with the winner and completed a $47.80 exacta. Blushing Indian, the 4-5 favorite in a field of 10 2-year-olds, finished another 2 1/4 lengths back in third.