03/18/2003 12:00AM

Badge of Silver: Blue Grass next?

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NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Ronny Werner on Tuesday said he may give Badge of Silver an extra week until his next start and run him in the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 12 instead of the $500,000 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 5.

Both races are at 1 1/8 miles and would serve as Badge of Silver's final prep for the May 3 Kentucky Derby. The Illinois Derby had been considered the next stop for Badge of Silver, but Werner said the colt may benefit from an extra week in light of recent throat surgery.

"We're looking at a couple of different scenarios," Werner said while traveling in Texas. "The Blue Grass is a possibility now. It's a pretty viable option. Since he had the throat surgery, this would give him another week. But I'm not ruling out Illinois.

"The track surface is also important. It can be deep and cuppy at Hawthorne, and a track like that would not fit him," Werner added.

Badge of Silver won his first start last year at Keeneland. In addition, Keeneland's main track tends to promote horses with a front-running style, like Badge of Silver.

"It's important for him to come back with a strong race, especially from a mental standpoint," Werner said of Badge of Silver, who suffered the first loss of his career in the Louisiana Derby.

Badge of Silver's connections believe a displaced palate caused him to fade in the stretch of the Louisiana Derby and finish sixth. On Friday, the horse had a myectomy, a minor in-stall surgery intended to keep him from displacing his soft palate in another race.

On Monday morning, Badge of Silver was back on the Fair Grounds track, where he turned in an exceptionally strong gallop.

He is the kind of horse that touts himself in morning training, and on Monday the word was go. Werner weighed Badge of Silver at 1,086 pounds on Monday, about 16 pounds more than he weighed going into the Louisiana Derby.

"He went like a monster," Werner said. "He went two and a half miles, and the last mile was pretty stiff. He was the man."

Werner plans to breeze Badge of Silver either Thursday or Friday.

Mystery Giver tough local foe for any shippers

As many as eight horses, four each from California and Florida, may ship to Fair Grounds on Wednesday for the $650,000 Explosive Bid Handicap here Sunday, but they are coming into the house of a Louisiana-based Illinois-bred who won't go down easily.

Mystery Giver, an explosive winner of the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup in his last start, put in his final work for the Explosive Bid on Sunday, and like all his recent breezes, the work was a strong one. Mystery Giver worked five furlongs in 1:00.80 and "went excellent," trainer Richie Scherer said. "He worked very relaxed."

Mystery Giver, owned by the family partnership of Team Block, has won 8 of 18 starts and almost $530,000. But he hasn't proved he can compete at this high level. He finished ninth last summer in the Arlington Million, his last foray into elite grass company, and 13th in this race last season.

But Mystery Giver, 5, is a late-maturing gelding who may just be reaching his physical peak, and at Fair Grounds this winter he has come into himself. Not only did he win the Fair Grounds BC by more than three lengths, his daily training on the dirt track has consistently been impressive. A fussy eater, Mystery Giver's lanky frame has filled out in the last half-year, and in his stall he bosses around anyone that messes with him.

"He thinks he's the man," Scherer said.

Scherer, who takes over Mystery Giver's training in the winter from Chris Block, has no idea if Mystery Giver can beat horses of the quality he will face this weekend.

"But if he has any shot to beat that level of horses, it'll be this Sunday," said Scherer. "It looks like he's at the top of his game right now. His color is great. He looks fit, not skinny. I think it's a very deep field, but I don't think there are any standouts like last year, with Sarafan and Beat Hollow" - who finished one-two.

Leading the list of invaders are Redattore from California and Rouvres from Florida. Redattore controlled a soft pace and won the prestigious Frank Kilroe Handicap on March 1. The French import Rouvres won an allowance race at Gulfstream in his first U.S. start, but is proven in graded stakes-caliber races.

Century City, Requete, and Seinne also are expected from California, while Mr. Pleasentfar and perhaps Della Francesca and Orchard Park will join Rouvres on a flight from Florida. Ship-ins from both coasts are scheduled to arrive Wednesday.

Besides Mystery Giver, the locals expected to start are Candid Glen, Even the Score, Freefourinternet, and Run to Victory. On Tuesday, Even the Score worked a half-mile in 50.80 seconds, while Freefourinternet went the same distances in 52 seconds.

Learned, considered possible for the Explosive Bid, is unlikely to run, trainer Bobby Barnett said. Instead, Learned could make his start in the Fifth Season Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn Park.

Lady Tak's work a breeze

Lady Tak had her first breeze Monday since her brilliant 3 1/2-length win in the Fair Grounds Oaks, working a half mile in 50.80 seconds.

"It was just an easy half-mile, her first work back," said trainer Steve Asmussen. "She'll work again next Monday according to how she's doing. Her weight's good, she's traveling well. She was nice and relaxed today."

Lady Tak's is scheduled to make her next start April 5 in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland.

- additional reporting by Jay Privman