02/18/2004 1:00AM

Badge of Silver's race a baffler


NEW ORLEANS - Badge of Silver has developed a strong following at Fair Grounds, and when he finished fifth as the favorite in the General George Handicap on Monday at Laurel Park, the air went out of many of his local fans.

But could anyone have been more acutely disappointed than Badge of Silver's trainer, Ronny Werner? Werner has been around this colt since he was an early-season 2-year-old, and he believed Badge of Silver had been training very well at Fair Grounds leading up to the General George.

"He went into it good, and he came out of it good, but what happened in between. . ." And there, Werner's voice trailed off as he shook his head in disbelief.

Werner was making no excuses, but said he knew quickly that something was amiss with Badge of Silver during Monday's race. Badge of Silver had flown from New Orleans to Maryland the Friday before, and he had shipped well, but he was not himself when it came time to run.

"After the first quarter-mile, my heart dropped," Werner said. "I knew the way he was moving, with his head down and his ears pinned, that just wasn't him. That's not how he runs."

Badge of Silver held his pace-pressing position to the quarter pole. Jockey Robby Albarado asked for more, but didn't get it, and Badge of Silver faded to fifth in the stretch, a major disappointment after his brilliant comeback race here last month.

Werner said Badge of Silver was scheduled to leave Laurel by van Wednesday night and travel to owner Ken Ramsey's central Kentucky farm. There he will stay for a day or two, before taking another van trip to rejoin Werner's string of horses at Fair Grounds. Werner said no specific plans had yet been made for Badge of Silver's next start.

Crack workout for Fire Slam

Fire Slam continues to look like a horse who can play a major role in the Louisiana Derby on March 7. Wednesday, he had his major workout for the race, and the quarter crack that compromised Fire Slam's training after he won the Lecomte Stakes does not seem to be troubling the colt right now.

Fire Slam worked six furlongs shortly after the end of the morning renovation break at 8:30. Working with another horse trained by David Carroll, and picking up an impromptu second workmate at the half-mile pole, Fire Slam was officially timed in 1:12, one of the fastest three-quarter mile breezes here all meet, and the fastest Wednesday by seven lengths.

Fire Slam and jockey Shane Sellers broke off four or five lengths behind the workmate, who was joined by another horse about two furlongs into the breeze, edging closer to the pair on the far turn and quickly taking command at the top of the stretch. Here, Fire Slam got a couple cracks of the whip, as per Carroll's instructions. Fire Slam loafs once he feels his work is done, and Carroll was adamant that Sellers get his attention once Fire Slam passed his partner. Fire Slam geared down again near the finish, and didn't gallop out especially strongly, but once on the backstretch, he spotted another horse and took off again.

"He wasn't tired at all," Carroll said. "Shane said he thought he might be tired, and then he saw that other horse, and he took off again."

Carroll said he was "thrilled to pieces" with Fire Slam's breeze. He also is pleased with the progress of the colt's injured hind hoof. Fire Slam continues to train in a bar shoe, but the quarter crack has healed as well as might be expected, and barring a late setback, Fire Slam should make his spot in the Louisiana Derby.

Thinking stakes for Breakaway

Three races before trainer Neil Howard sent Gradepoint out to win the Risen Star Stakes, another Howard-trained 3-year-old, Breakaway, earned a stakes start with a 9 1/2-length win in an entry-level allowance race. It was the second straight victory for Breakaway, who is by Silver Deputy and out of the stakes-level sprinter Make Haste.

Breakaway was timed in 1:45.96 for 1 1/16 miles, Gradepoint in 1:45.36, but Gradepoint rallied into a slower pace while facing better horses. Still, Breakaway clearly has improved the last couple of months, and his win Sunday, Breakaway's second straight, has his connections looking at stakes races.

"He's on the small side, but he's a bit like Gradepoint in that he comes from so far out of it," Howard said. "The horses he had to catch obviously weren't the same as with Gradepoint, but he ran a nice race the other day."

Round trip with no race

It's a safe assumption that no horse has taken the same route to Saturday's Chou Croute Handicap as Golden Sonata. Golden Sonata had been in the barn of trainer Bunky Richards only a few days when she won the Truly Bound Handicap here Jan. 4, and it was not long after that race that Golden Sonata boarded a van bound for Kentucky, where she was to run in the Likely Exchange Handicap on Feb. 7 at Turfway Park. Golden Sonata made it as far as the warm-ups for that race when Turfway canceled the remainder of its card. Back on the van and back to Fair Grounds went Golden Sonata.

"She didn't lose any weight shipping back and forth, though," Richards said Wednesday.

Golden Sonata went through a long dry spell before winning her last two. The Truly Bound was her first stakes win, and since Golden Sonata is a daughter of Mr. Prospector, that was a huge boon to her residual value as a broodmare. She put in a solid work on Tuesday, and Richards said she is training as well for this start as she was before the Truly Bound.

* Sunday's $75,000 Taylor's Special Handicap, a six-furlong sprint, is expected to draw a field of about eight. Mountain General is scheduled to return from a six-month layoff in the race.

* Jockey Eddie Martin, injured in a gate accident before Monday's last race, was scheduled to see a foot specialist Wednesday, according to his agent, Bobby Kelly. Martin was named to ride on Thursday, but Kelly said it was doubtful Martin could fulfill those commitments. Martin was named on just two horses Friday.