01/21/2004 12:00AM

Badge of Silver returns

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Trainer Ronny Werner swiped a page from the playbook of Barclay Tagg, who two weekends ago snuck Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide into a Gulfstream Park allowance race. Among six entries for Fair Grounds's six-furlong ninth race Friday is , a 4-year-old trained by Werner who might cross paths with Funny Cide in major handicap races later this season.

Last March 9, in the Louisiana Derby, Badge of Silver swooped past Funny Cide, Peace Rules, and Kafwain at the head of the Fair Grounds stretch. But just then, Badge of Silver displaced his soft palate and faded to sixth. A couple of weeks later, for the second-time in a star-crossed career, he fractured a cannon bone - no Triple Crown and no racing of any sort for the rest of his 3-year-old season.

Now Badge of Silver is back, and Werner - knocking heavily on the nearest piece of wood - said Badge of Silver's comeback has gone as well as could be hoped.

"I couldn't ask him to be doing any better," Werner said Wednesday. "His legs are super. The throat isn't a concern, not even a little. How he's finished in his works, and scoping him afterward, he's given me no indication of any problem."

Make no mistake - a fractured cannon bone is a serious injury. But unlike bone chips, bone spurs, or other common Thoroughbred maladies, a cannon bone injury requires rest, not surgery. You can feel the fracture points on Badge of Silver's lower leg, but there is no reason to think the injuries should affect his future performance.

And that appeared to be the case when Badge of Silver, who is owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, dazzled in a major six-furlong work Jan. 8. The breeze was timed in 1:12.80, exceptional for this surface, and though Friday's race is designed to set Badge of Silver up for the Feb. 29 New Orleans Handicap, a loss would come as a major surprise. Badge of Silver won his two sprint starts by a combined 16 lengths (he won the two-turn Risen Star by 10), and as relaxed as he his in his training and races, Badge of Silver possesses brilliant speed.

The opposition Friday is a solid bunch: Neon Shadow, Lead by Example, Witt Ante, Captain Thunder, and Grand Steal. But Badge of Silver is in a different league.

"No doubt, it's been a long, long wait," said Werner. "We're really glad to get him back on track. He's at the point now where he's good and tight and ready for three-quarters. I thought this would be a good starting point."