02/24/2005 1:00AM

At 7, Silver Bid is still strong

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CHICAGO - You can't say Silver Bid is going gray, since he started out that way, but two months after his seventh birthday, the best Illinois-bred sprinter in the land has taken on a whitish hue.

Yet even as Silver Bid's coat has lightened with age, the horse remains a heavyweight in the local sprint division.

Saturday at Hawthorne, makes the 41st start of a surprisingly excellent career, as one of five horses entered in the $40,000 Hula Chief, a six-furlong overnight sprint stakes. Named champion Illinois-bred sprinter of 2004, Silver Bid, a homebred by the obscure, deceased stallion Buckbean, begins 2005 with 15 career victories and earnings of almost $600,000. Year after year, he has been a boon to his small-scale owners, Terry Renfrow and Eugene Young, and to trainer Joel Berndt.

"He shows no signs of letting up," Berndt said Thursday. "To me, he looks even better now than he did as a 5-year-old."

Silver Bid had knee surgery as a youngster, but has been sound as hickory ever since. His connections don't try taking him away from what he loves most - the racetrack.

"We've never turned him out since he was 2," said Berndt. "He just doesn't like it. He'll walk the fence line and get all worked up at the farm."

Silver Bid last raced Nov. 13, when he won the $100,000 Lightning Jet by 1 1/2 lengths. After 30 days of walking around Berndt's shed row, Silver Bid was going to hurt somebody, or hurt himself; it was time to go back to the track to begin serious preparations for another season.

"He's trained great, and I think we're heading into the year in great shape," said Berndt.

Silver Bid's 2004 campaign, which included 6 wins from 8 starts, started with a comeback score here at Hawthorne, and there is good reason to believe he can begin again with another win. Silver Bid, Carlos Montalvo named to ride, has post 3; he can make the lead and dictate the pace if the race shapes up that way, or sit off the flank of Shandy, the horse drawn right inside him, if that horse is sent to the front.

Shandy, another Illinois-bred, and Silver Bid have met many times, and Silver Bid has proven over and over to be the better horse. Silver Zipper, who has the rail Saturday, finished second here last fall in Silver Bid's lone clunker of the year.