10/01/2003 11:00PM

Walden runs two, likes both - equally


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Elliott Walden likes to tell a story about some sage advice he received early in his training career.

"People were constantly asking me before races if I liked my horse, and it got to be overwhelming after a while," said Walden. "Then another trainer told me to always say, 'I love him, just love him.' After four or five straight losers, they don't come around anymore."

That story applies to the line of repetitive questioning that surely will dog Walden at Keeneland as the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity approaches Saturday: Which one, Elliott? Tiger Hunt or Victory Light?

"Honestly, I don't really have a feel for which one," said Walden.

Tiger Hunt, owned by Team Valor, and Victory Light, owned by WinStar Farm, both will run in the $400,000 Breeders' Futurity, a 1 1/16-mile race that is a perennial key prep toward the Oct. 25 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The Walden duo is among 11 2-year-olds entered in the Grade 2 race.

Walden said that Tiger Hunt, a Kris S. colt who is unbeaten in two races, including the Sept. 1 Cradle Stakes, "has done more to this point than I would've thought he would've done. What I mean is I didn't expect him to win first time out [at 24-1], and then I didn't know if he would be able to win the Cradle, either. But he showed great improvement that day. Obviously, he's stepped up when we've asked him - and this is another step up Saturday."

Walden said Victory Light, a gelding by Victory Gallop, "probably has done more than Tiger Hunt," having already raced twice at a mile, including a strong second-place finish in the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine last month.

"I just think they're both very nice horses," he said. "I put them both in there to see where we are."

In the case of a big effort Saturday, Victory Light could go to the Breeders' Cup, but not Tiger Hunt, said Walden. Team Valor president Barry Irwin said after the Cradle that he prefers not to run his potential Kentucky Derby contenders in the BC Juvenile.

Walden, along with Todd Pletcher and Nick Zito, is one of three trainers to have two starters in the Breeders' Futurity. Pletcher might have the slight favorite in Value Plus, the Belmont Futurity runner-up, who will be ridden by Pat Valenzuela. Although he considered running Value Plus in the Champagne instead, Pletcher said Thursday from his Belmont barn that Value Plus "is running there" after the son of Unbridled's Song was assigned the favorable No. 3 post in the Futurity.

Pletcher also will send out Limehouse. Zito counters with the promising pair of Eurosilver and The Cliff's Edge. There are no coupled entries in the race.

Mass Media and War Image, both unbeaten in two starts, and Cooperation, the beaten favorite in the Del Mar Futurity, are the most notable names among the rest.

The Breeders' Futurity has been a major race ever since Johnstown, an eventual Kentucky Derby winner, captured the first running in 1938. Other notable winners include Whirlaway (1940), Round Table (1956), Swale (1983), and Favorite Trick (1997). The 2002 winner was the recently retired Sky Mesa, trained by John T. Ward Jr.

The Breeders' Futurity is the sixth race Saturday, and will be broadcast live on CNBC. Post time is 3:45 p.m. Eastern.