10/12/2004 11:00PM

One race a month suits Silver Bid

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CHICAGO - Silver Bid batted just 2 for 14 in 2003, but this year he has been money in the bank, winning five times in six starts. Silver Bid, the sharpest Illinois-bred sprinter going, runs Friday at Hawthorne, where he will have only four opponents in the featured first race.

The old trainer's axiom has echoed through Silver Bid's season: Keep yourself in the best company and your horse in the worst. Deft management by trainer Joel Berndt and owners Eugene Young and Terry Renfrow has landed Silver Bid in the right spots all year.

"The biggest difference is we've spaced his races out more," said Berndt. "He's so happy and healthy. The key is to just not run him so often. Going along, picking our spots about once a month - it's working so far."

Wednesday's race, at six furlongs, has a $100,000 claiming option, but Silver Bid qualifies under the allowance conditions, and he's not being risked for a tag. A 6-year-old Illinois-bred gelding, Silver Bid has banked almost $185,000 of nearly $520,000 in career earnings this season while showing no signs of slowing down.

"Another thing about racing him less often is maybe he can stay around for the next year or two," Berndt said.

Why not? There are several lucrative Illinois-bred sprint stakes each season, and Silver Bid sits atop the division at the moment. He went to Canterbury for his most recent race, on Sept. 5, and beat open allowance horses by more than two lengths despite catching a muddy track.

"I don't think he'd ever dropped that far back on a wet track before," Berndt said. "At the three-eighths pole, I had the owner on the phone, and I said, 'We can't win it.' And here he comes, running down those horses, and he wins by two. The horse hates mud, too."

While sparse, the competition Friday is stout. Without a Doubt, who runs well at Hawthorne, lost to Silver Bid by a head on May 23 at Arlington. Silver Zipper is a high-quality sprinter, and Shandy - another Illinois-bred - is the last horse to have beaten Silver Bid. Front-running Fifteen Rounds, back on form after struggling earlier this year, completes the field.

Three Hour Nap rests till next year

Three Hour Nap has run his last race as a 2-year-old, and will be turned out to wait for his 3-year-old season, his trainer Hugh Robertson said.

Last Saturday at Keeneland, Three Hour Nap lost for the first time, finishing sixth in the Grade 2 Breeders' Futurity, after winning the first three starts of his career. But he never really had a chance. Three Hour Nap broke badly and was last out of the gate and into the first turn. Dropping far back on an inside- and speed-favoring track was bad enough; then, Three Hour Nap wound up about six paths wide.

"The rail was so good all weekend," Robertson said. "He ran his guts out just to finish sixth."

Three Hour Nap ran hard when he won the Arlington-Washington Futurity on Sept. 19, and Robertson said another week between races would have been ideal. But there will be plenty of time for rest now.

"I guess I'll take him with me when I go south to Hot Springs for the winter," said Robertson, referring to Oaklawn Park.

Blinkers aid Santana Strings

Another good Robertson 2-year-old, Stormy Afternoon, finished second here Monday in a quickly run allowance race, beaten a half-length by the surprisingly talented Santana Strings.

Santana Strings, trained by Tom Tomillo, won a $50,000 maiden-claimer by nine lengths in his career debut, then ran second in the Spectacular Bid Stakes and a dull fifth in the Arlington-Washington Futurity. Monday, he raced with Lasix and blinkers for the first time, and turned back to six furlongs - getting the distance in a fast 1:10.20 - after stretching out to a mile in the Futurity.

"The blinkers helped him a lot," Tomillo said. "Probably, sprinting is his best distance. We might try to stretch him out again later, but we'll keep him sprinting for now."

Tomillo said Santana Strings could wind up in a stakes race next time out, but when and where are uncertain. Santana Strings, purchased privately for $25,000 before his career debut, is owned by the Shamrock Hill Farm.

Stormy Afternoon ran well in defeat, and Robertson said the colt's on target for an Illinois-bred stakes race here next month.

Derby field coming up soft

The field for Saturday's Hawthorne Derby is holding steady at seven or eight prospective starters, though more could come out of the woodwork. After all, it is getting late in the year for a 3-year-old restricted race, and right now, the quality of the derby doesn't quite match its $250,000 purse.

Hawthorne racing officials expect at least two long-distance shippers for the derby: Cockleshell is coming from trainer Michael Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in Maryland, while the Rick Violette-trained Bankruptcy Court is expected from New York.

Cockleshell might wind up as the race favorite, unless there is a late drift in the field's composition. Cockleshell won his first three races, two at Fair Grounds and one at Pimlico, and he was boxed in when he finished fourth in his most recent start, the $55,000 Stanton Stakes at Delaware.