10/10/2005 12:00AM

Don't count out these old-timers just yet

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CHICAGO - Silver Zipper is 8 going on 9, Silver Bid a couple months away from his 8-year-old birthday. Both gray coats are fading to white. And how much high-class racing is left for this excellent pair of sprinters?

The question is not an idle one. The question, in fact, must be answered to divine the results of the featured fourth race on Wednesday at Hawthorne. Silver Zipper has post 1, and Silver Bid the 5-hole in a six-horse field of top-end dirt sprinters.

The nine-race Hawthorne card actually is blessed with two feature-quality races. The first is for fourth-level allowance horses or $60,000 claimers at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

Silver Bid was king of the Illinois-bred sprinters last season. But not this year. The East Coast invader Take Achance on Me has had his number in the big statebred stakes sprints, and Silver Bid has just 1 win in 6 2005 starts. But do not hold his most recent performance, a distant eighth in an Arlington turf sprint, against him.

"That was just a turf experiment, and I emphasize 'experiment,' " said trainer Joel Berndt.

Berndt was asked a two-part question: Does Silver Bid still have his old spark, and has he lost a couple steps?

"To the first part, yes, he's got some spark left," Berndt said. "To the second part, I think he probably has. I mean, he's 7 turning 8. He doesn't have that raw speed anymore. He's more of a stalker now. But he's training super now. He's training as good as ever."

has raced 19 times at Hawthorne, with 5 wins, 9 seconds, and 2 thirds. But things don't come as easy for him now.

, even older, has gone winless in three starts this year, but he comes out of the same turf-sprint prep as Silver Bid, and also is a four-time Hawthorne winner.

Sharpest of all right now, and less than half the age of the two warhorses, is , who cruised to a six-length win in a third-level sprint allowance here Sept. 24. Rocky River, talented but difficult to handle at 2, has mixed brilliant victories with implosions during an eight-start career. His last win, visually impressive, was aided by an inside-speed bias that arose on the latter half of the Hawthorne Gold Cup program after heavy rain hit the track. Still, Rocky River obviously has spring left in his legs. His chances might hinge on how much speed Orphan Brigade shows. A front-end duel could set up the Wednesday feature for one of the old-timers.