04/19/2005 11:00PM

Lord of the Game local hero of NJC

Louis Hodges Jr.
Badge of Silver, likely to be odds-on in the National Jockey Club Handicap, will have among his four competitors Pollard's Vision, whom he defeated in the New Orleans Handicap.

STICKNEY, Ill. - Five horses were entered Tuesday in Saturday's $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap, and the favorite, Badge of Silver, looks something like 1-5.

Whatever his exact price Saturday, Badge of Silver will appear to many a clear standout, and he will be odds-on to shoot straight to the lead from post 3 and take his four foes on a merry chase.

Still, the Grade 3, nine-furlong NJC Handicap has at least a little depth. The likely second choice is Pollard's Vision, who shipped to Hawthorne last spring for a definitive score in the Illinois Derby. But Pollard's Vision was no match for Badge of Silver when they met March 12 in the New Orleans Handicap. He and the race's two stretch-runners, Seek Gold and Freefourinternet - the 2004 Hawthorne Gold Cup winner - will need pace help Saturday from the local underdog, Lord of the Game.

Lord of the Game will be taking a steep step up in class, but the horse has earned a stakes start with wins in his first five races. Trainer Tom Tomillo and owner Bill Slevin claimed Lord of the Game for $10,000 on Dec. 31 out of his career debut, which Lord of the Game won by some 23 lengths. And after a hard-fought entry-level allowance victory at Fair Grounds, he has won three more races at Hawthorne without having to work. On March 11 Lord of the Game won by 11 1/2 lengths; on April 2 the margin was 7 3/4; and April 12, in a fourth-level allowance race, he won off by almost six lengths. Each time, Lord of the Game has galloped along on or near the lead, leaving his rivals at the top of the stretch with an effortless burst of speed.

"It's been a long time since I've been on a horse that's won that easy," said jockey Eddie Razo, aboard for the last three wins. "Sometimes you have to smooch to the horse or something, even when they win easy, but I didn't do anything with him. I just help him switch leads. He does the acceleration."

Tomillo said last week that Lord of the Game would go in the NJC 'Cap only in the event of a short field. The numbers are right, but Lord of the Game has never faced anything like a Badge of Silver.

"I know it's going to be a tougher race," Razo said. "I don't know if he can go with those horses, but he won't be a disappointment."

While Lord of the Game has merely to walk across the racetrack to start, Badge of Silver will travel by van from Churchill Downs on Thursday, trainer Bobby Frankel said. The horse has ended up in Chicago because an abscess in a hind hoof cost him a scheduled start in the Carter Handicap two weekends ago, but Badge of Silver worked six furlongs in 1:13 on Saturday at Churchill, and has recovered from his foot problem.

"That was no big deal," Frankel said. "He's doing really, really well right now."

Injustice a Catalano standout

When the trainer Wayne Catalano got down to a handful of horses over the winter at Fair Grounds, after splitting with his main client, Frank Calabrese, his everyday crackling energy started shifting toward anxiety. But that has changed. Catalano has returned to the driver's seat, with Calabrese back in the fold and a sharp stakes horse, Injustice, ready for the $250,000 Sixty Sails Handicap on Saturday.

Catalano won with the first five Calabrese horses he started at Hawthorne, and if the man is thriving, so too is the gray 4-year-old filly about seven stalls down from his barn office.

"The way she's trained, I have to like my chances," Catalano said, referring to Injustice and the Grade 3 Sixty Sails, which drew a field of seven when entries were taken Tuesday.

Turf Express Inc. and Darrell and Evelyn Yates privately purchased Injustice this winter, turning her over to Catalano, and Injustice won the Grade 3 Azeri Breeders' Cup March 12 at Oaklawn, a quick return on investment. But the Sixty Sails probably is a stronger race. From Kentucky comes the favorite, the Chilean-bred, Todd Pletcher-trained Isola Piu Bella. Frankel will fly in Personal Legend from California, while Rare Gift and Friel's for Real will ship from the East Coast. The Bay Meadows-based Uninhibited Song and Ghostly Gate, another local, also were entered.

Injustice is by a Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, Lit de Justice, and she has raced in sprints for most of her career. But Injustice raised her performance level after switching to two-turn races this season, and she has progressed, Catalano thinks, since coming to Hawthorne about a month ago.

"She's got a girth on her like this," Catalano said, spreading wide his arms. "She's not the biggest filly in the world, but she's got what you need."

Monday, Injustice had her last work for the Sixty Sails, speeding a morning-best 46.80 seconds for a half-mile with jockey Eddie Razo up.

"He sat on her like a statue," Catalano said. "She was just galloping."

Any of a half-dozen have a shot

The Friday feature here, race 4, is for second-level allowance horses at 1 1/16 miles on dirt, and though the race drew only six horses, it's possible to imagine any of them winning.

Tito's Beau, third at the class level in his last start, and Iosilver, in his 4-year-old debut, are the likely pace horses, though the Kentucky shipper Troupe should wind up close to the early lead.

If the pace turns hot, the stretch-runner Sr. Razem will have a chance to win, but only if he maintains contact with the field on the backstretch, something Sr. Razem failed to do when he finished fourth in his most recent race.