02/07/2002 12:00AM

Walden makes WinStar deal

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer Elliott Walden, who has forged a growing alliance in recent years with the WinStar Farm of owners Bill Casner and Kenny Trout, strengthened that relationship on Thursday, announcing that he would train privately for WinStar, effective with the 2-year-old crop of 2002.

Walden, 39, said the contract with WinStar allows him to retain his current group of horses for outside owners, including top 3-year-old prospects Quest Star and Speed Hunter, both of whom are owned by Frank Mansell.

"It won't have an impact on what I have now, but going forward I'll train for WinStar," Walden said from New Orleans, where he was checking his string of horses at Fair Grounds. "Kenny and Bill were real good about this. They didn't want to try to strong-arm me into giving up my other current horses or anything like that.

"I have so many good owners who have supported me over the years that this was a difficult decision," Walden said. "But it's a tremendous opportunity. Kenny and Bill are going to have an impact at the highest level. They are breeding mares to horses like Storm Cat and A. P. Indy, and they have stallions like Tiznow and Victory Gallop."

Walden said his contract with WinStar will allow him to cut down on the number of horses he trains, freeing him to spend more time with his wife, Rebecca, and their three children - Will, Mac, and Emily.

"I'm going to be able to reduce my number of horses from 85 or 90 to 50. That's appealing," Walden said. "You know I value family very highly, and they do, too. A by-product of the whole thing is that I'll be able to spend more time with my family. This gives me long-term security. It's a good contract. They were very fair with me."

Doug Cauthen, vice-president and racing manager for WinStar, said the farm pursued an exclusive deal with Walden so Walden would have "the ability to focus a higher percentage of his time on our horses."

"There will be fewer horses in the barn, and they'll be our horses," Cauthen said. "That takes away the burden of his having to call 20 different owners. It's like a teacher having a smaller classroom."

Walden, who lives in Louisville, Ky., said he will continue to follow the circuit he has in recent years, spending his winters in Florida at Payson Park, and the rest of the year in Kentucky.

Walden is best known for winning the 1998 Belmont Stakes with Victory Gallop, who spoiled Real Quiet's bid for the Triple Crown. He also finished second in the Kentucky Derby two straight years, with Victory Gallop and then Menifee in 1999. Victory Gallop, the Eclipse Award-winning older horse of 1999, is Walden's only champion.

- additional reporting by Glenye Cain