07/31/2002 12:00AM

'Fighting' a live one for Bettis

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - What do Spectacular Bid, Black Tie Affair, and a 3-year-old colt named Fighting Indians have in common? A guy named Charlie Bettis.

Bettis worked with trainer Bud Delp for 14 years and was Spectacular Bid's groom during his 3-year-old and 4-year-old seasons. He was an assistant to trainer Ernie Poulos when Black Tie Affair tore through the Midwest handicap division and won the Breeders' Cup Classic, traveling from track to track with the horse.

Now, Bettis as head trainer has come up with a 3-year-old colt he thinks can become a stakes horse, Fighting Indians, who is slated to van to Philadelphia Park later this month for the $100,000 Larry Riviello President's Cup. A good showing there could land Fighting Indians in the Pennsylvania Derby.

"It's been a while since I've been this excited about one of these," Bettis said.

Fighting Indians has started five times, and in his four dirt races he has been first twice and second twice. After getting stopped badly in the stretch here July 10 and finishing second, Fighting Indians returned with a four-length first-level allowance score Saturday when he ran seven furlongs in 1:22.60.

Bettis also had entered Fighting Indians in the nine-furlong Round Table on Saturday, but elected to delay the colt's first start in a stakes and around two turns. "I've been training him to go long," said Bettis. "From the way he trains, I don't see any reason he won't like two turns."

Fighting Indians already qualifies as a success. Sold as a yearling for $11,000, Fighting Indians went through the auction ring a year later and brought only $3,200. Bettis got him from a farm in Florida that specializes in selling low-level sales horses.

"They sent me one that was crooked and one that broke down, and then I got him," Bettis said. "I guess no one really wanted him because he's so big and because of his conformation. I gave him the time that he needs."

Now, Fighting Indians is giving back.

Bonapaw to go in Sprint

Bonapaw, an impressive winner of the one-mile Hanshin Cup here in his last race. will return to sprint racing in the the Arlington Sprint on Aug. 24. A start in the Sept. 29 Sea O Erin, a one-mile turf race, could follow, trainer Norman Miller said.

"He's doing great and we're looking good for the Arlington," said Miller. "He came back really well from that last race."

Miller said Bonapaw will work only once before the Sprint, breezing five furlongs about 12 days before the race.

Silva rides 3,000th winner

Veteran Chicago jockey Carlos Silva became the 101st rider to win 3,000 races when he guided Buba's Cape to a neck victory in Wednesday's third race at Arlington.

The 46-year-old Silva, a native of Santiago, Chile, is the fifth leading rider in Arlington history. He came into this meet, which began June 5, needing only 12 wins for the milestone.

- Jockey Ray Sibille was off his mounts Wednesday and probably won't ride this week because of injuries he incurred in a spill last week.