01/10/2005 12:00AM

Badge of Silver leads parade of stars

Badge of Silver (center), between Added Edge (left) and Commentator, earned a 111 Beyer in the Hal's Hope.

NEW YORK - The search for reinforcements in a handicap division that has quality but not much depth got a boost Saturday with the outcome of the at Gulfstream Park. Badge of Silver and Dynever acquitted themselves well finishing first and second, and they could help the handicap division by providing it with some much-needed numbers if they continue to perform like that, though in Dynever's case he could be helping the handicap division in the Middle East.

For Badge of Silver, the question has never been one of ability. He is a horse who earned lofty Beyer Speed Figures of 108 in the first two races he was eligible to receive them (Beyers were not assigned for his first career race). He was also good enough to be an excellent second last fall in the Cigar Mile, a race that is always difficult to win, in just his second start back off a long layoff.

The question for Badge of Silver is whether he can stay in one piece for a meaningful length of time, something he has yet to do. He is a very fragile sort, as evidenced by the injury that knocked him off the 2003 Kentucky Derby trail when he was one of the most intriguing prospects around, and by the fact that the Hal's Hope was only the ninth start of his career. That isn't much for a 5-year-old.

As for Dynever, he was purchased by Buckram Oak Farm a week before the Hal's Hope and it is possible he will be shipped to Saudi Arabia to continue his racing career.

Dynever has never lacked talent. Many of the sharpest wise guys on the planet liked him to beat both Funny Cide and Empire Maker in the 2003 Belmont Stakes.

Dynever was a terrific third behind Pleasantly Perfect and Medaglia d'Oro in the Breeders' Cup Classic later that year, and looked like a world-beater when he won the San Bernardino in his first start of 2004.

With Dynever, the issue is attitude. As well as he runs at times, other times he's a complete no-show. Three of his five performances after the San Bernardino were duds, and even after his solid Hal's Hope effort, Dynever is still seeking his first victory since that San Bernardino. But Dynever ran very well Saturday, closing from far back and finishing like a freight train to get to within a neck of Badge of Silver. A big part of the reason why Dynever deserves such credit is because Badge of Silver ran so well to win.

Badge of Silver did sit a nice trip just off a fast early pace. But this race was a breakthrough for him because he scored in his first attempt at as far as 1 1/8 miles, and ran strongly enough to earn a 111 Beyer, which is a pretty good place to launch one's campaign. Badge of Silver's victory also means that owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey have a weapon until their Roses in May gets rolling, and a threat in the handicap races that Roses in May does not target. And for trainer Bobby Frankel, it means he has another sharpshooter to use until his big gun, Ghostzapper, returns to action, which may not be until late May in the Metropolitan Mile.

The Hal's Hope was one of three stakes on Gulfstream's program that produced eye-catching performances. The first of those was the Aventura, which took advantage of Gulfstream's new one-mile chute, and kicked off the track's revamped program for 3-year-olds that now finds the Florida Derby being run in April. High Fly was visually impressive winning the Aventura to remain undefeated after three starts, particularly with the way he extended his lead from 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole to nine lengths at the finish, and with the way he ran through the wire in the manner of a colt looking for more distance. High Fly was also pretty good against the clock, as he earned a 100 Beyer.

The first inclination after seeing a performance like the one from High Fly is to discount it from a Kentucky Derby context since it happened in early January. The last seven Kentucky Derby winners all made starts in January, however, and none was more impressive either visually or from a time standpoint than High Fly, so you never know.

The other big stakes win at Gulfstream was by Saratoga County in the Mr. Prospector Handicap. Saratoga County was also visually impressive as he came from last to inhale his field around the far turn and in upper stretch. It may well be that Saratoga County is a new addition to the upper echelon of the sprint division, but it may be a good idea to wait for a bit more evidence before accepting that conclusion. On paper, the Mr. Prospector was a race that figured to fall apart in the late stages, and it certainly ran that way, as no early pace factor was any closer to the winner at the finish than 7 1/2 lengths behind. Saratoga County's winning 107 Beyer is also reason to reserve judgment, as it was on the light side for a big-time sprint performance.