06/29/2005 12:00AM

Walden says time is ripe for change

Elliott Walden's stable earned a career-high $7.25 million in 1999.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Elliott Walden often told the story that as a young boy growing up around horses in central Kentucky, his lifetime aspiration was to be a trainer. "It was all I cared about," he said Wednesday.

Walden had 21 highly successful years as a trainer, but as he grew older, he decided that other aspects of his life took a higher priority. This week, WinStar Farm, Walden's primary client for the last several years, named him a vice president of racing and bloodstock services, a newly created position that will keep him heavily involved in the sport, only in a different capacity.

Walden, 42, said he will maintain an office in Louisville while directing an ever-expanding WinStar operation that partners Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt began in Versailles, Ky., in 2000. He will oversee multiple aspects of WinStar's business while farming out the active racehorses to a variety of trainers.

Walden and WinStar president Doug Cauthen said that Richard Budge, Walden's Kentucky assistant, will assume the care of most of the 70 horses currently based at Churchill Downs and the High Point Training Center east of Louisville, while East Coast trainers Todd Pletcher, Bobby Frankel, Bruce Levine, and John Servis soon will be getting more WinStar horses.

The shift in responsibilities at WinStar signals an abrupt end to a fine training career for Walden, whose late father, Ben Walden Sr., and older brother, Ben Walden Jr., were highly instrumental in his career development.

"I cannot tell you how proud I am of what Elliott has accomplished," said Ben Walden Jr. "Not only has he represented the family remarkably well as a trainer, but as a human being."

Walden's feats as a trainer are numerous. From 5,622 starts, he won 1,016 races, and his horses earned $45,807,339. He won training titles at Keeneland and Churchill Downs while also becoming a major player on the national stage. The pinnacle came in the late 1990's: He won the 1998 Belmont Stakes with Victory Gallop, foiling the Triple Crown bid of Real Quiet, and his stable earned a career-high $7.25 million in 1999.

"The Belmont win was probably the highlight, but I also remember a one-week span in 1999 when we won the Whitney with Victory Gallop, the Ballston Spa with Pleasant Temper, and then the Haskell with Menifee and Jim Dandy with Ecton Park on the same Saturday," said Walden. "Those were special times."

Although his stable earnings followed a parabolic path, increasing every year from 1993 to 1999 and then decreasing every year through 2005, Walden, as its semi-private trainer, has been beholden to the growing pains of WinStar, where the focus has largely shifted from a racing stable to a prominent commercial breeding operation. Foremost among the farm's top produce was 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide.

"We have evolved to the point where we really need Elliott's assistance and experience in a wide variety of areas," said Cauthen. "His knowledge and expertise should be of great value in the years to come."

Walden, who is married and has three children, said he will always be grateful for his years as a trainer. "They were tremendously rewarding in many ways," he said. "But as I have matured, and my life focus and responsibilities have changed, this was a great opportunity to tend to everything of meaning to me. There will be more flexibility in this job to allow more time with my family and in my growth as a Christian."

Walden is the second prominent trainer at Churchill to resign this week from training to move to another facet of the racing industry. Ken McPeek, also 42 and the trainer of a Belmont winner (Sarava, 2002), assumed the role of bloodstock agent this week.

Kitten's Joy works between races

Kitten's Joy, the defending Eclipse turf champion and the solid favorite for the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap here Monday, had his final pre-race breeze here Wednesday afternoon when he went five furlongs on the turf course in a rare workout between races.

Kitten's Joy was permitted to work in the afternoon because all turf works that had been planned for Tuesday morning were canceled because of excessive wetness.

The Wednesday work, which followed the third race, came with Faustino Orantes aboard and with the "dogs" far out onto a course rated "good." Without serious urging at any point, Kitten's Joy was timed in 59.46 seconds, with a final quarter-mile in slightly less than 23.00.

"What I wanted was to just pick it up gradually, and that's what happened," said trainer Dale Romans.

Kitten's Joy will carry 124 pounds, including Edgar Prado, as the highweight in the $250,000 Firecracker, a one-mile turf race that will mark the 4-year-old colt's first start in more than eight months. Last year, Kitten's Joy won 6 of 8 starts, all on turf, ending with a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

The rest of the prospective lineup includes America Alive, Del Mar Show, Old Forester, Package Store, Parker Run, and Senor Swinger.

The Firecracker follows the $150,000 Locust Grove Handicap as the second and last stakes to be run here this weekend. The Grade 3 Locust Grove, a 1 1/8-mile turf race on Saturday, is expected to get eight to 10 fillies and mares, led by Katdogawn and Delta Princess.

Simms serving 30-day suspension

Trainer Garry Simms has begun serving a 30-day suspension for a medication violation stemming from a race last winter at Turfway Park. A post-race sample from Davis Mint, winner of the third race March 13, was found to have contained sildenafil, the active ingredient in the human erectile dysfunction drug, Viagra.

Chief steward Mickey Sample said no explanation was given during the lengthy legal process in which Simms and his attorney, Burr Travis, discussed the case with the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority.

The purse was redistributed accordingly. Simms's suspension ends July 25.

* The feature race on the Friday twilight program is the lone allowance of the 10-race card, a $50,800, entry-level turf route for fillies and mares. Among the top contenders in a well-matched field of seven is Cat Quatorze, the first starter for trainer Helen Pitts, who has picked up many of the horses previously trained by Ken McPeek. First post is 2:45 p.m. Eastern.