04/20/2005 11:00PM

'Silver' short price in NJC 'Cap

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CHICAGO - Late April of his 5-year-old season, and Badge of Silver still has only raced 10 times. Never has the horse wanted for brilliance. It is a lack of continuity that has dogged Badge of Silver.

Saturday, Chicagoans get a firsthand look at , the headliner with jockey Jerry Bailey in a five-horse field scheduled to start in the Grade 3, $250,000 National Jockey Club Handicap. The NJC 'Cap goes as the seventh race, immediately followed by the Grade 3 Sixty Sails, another nine-furlong dirt race, this one for older females.

Three springs ago Badge of Silver won his career debut by nine lengths, running about as fast as a Thoroughbred can run. But the colt fractured a cannon bone and was out for nine months. At 3, physical setbacks derailed his Kentucky Derby hopes, and last year, Badge of Silver raced twice in the winter, then disappeared until October, moving from trainer Ronny Werner to Bobby Frankel during the absence.

Badge of Silver ranks as the second-best older horse both for Frankel, who has Ghostzapper, and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who campaign Roses in May, but he will be an overwhelming favorite at Hawthorne. Badge of Silver won the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap by a length in his last start, running his opening half-mile in 45.40 seconds, a bruising pace even on a fast-playing racing surface that carried inside speed.

Frankel planned a start in the seven-furlong Carter Handicap on April 9 at Aqueduct, but Badge of Silver developed a hind-foot abscess days before the race and stayed in Kentucky. Another setback at an inopportune moment, but this one no more than a hiccup. Badge of Silver "walked for four days," Frankel said, but was back to work April 16, breezing six furlongs in 1:13.20.

"He's not 100 percent, but I don't think these horses are as good as he is," Frankel said.

The likely second choice Saturday, Pollard's Vision, finished fourth, beaten almost seven lengths by Badge of Silver in the New Orleans Handicap, though Pollard's Vision, who won the Illinois Derby here last year, raced against a track bias that day.

On the rail is Seek Gold, who overcame his bad gate habits to finish second last fall in the Clark Handicap, but failed to reproduce that race in two winter starts. The undefeated Lord of the Game, who ran for a $10,000 claiming price Dec. 31, probably will race closest to Badge of Silver on the backstretch, but is untested against stakes horses. On the outside is Freefourinternet, who often drops more than 20 lengths behind the early leaders, but rallied to win the Hawthorne Gold Cup here last fall.