02/14/2004 12:00AM

Trick is catching Badge of Silver

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There are a half-dozen horses in Monday's General George Handicap at Laurel Park capable of running within six or seven points of the 113 Beyer Speed Figure that Badge of Silver earned in his first start in more than 10 months.

None of them, however, possesses the kind of early speed Badge of Silver can generate. So unless Badge of Silver gets tired going a furlong farther than he ran three weeks ago at Fair Grounds, he might be uncatchable in the Grade 2, $200,000 General George at seven furlongs.

Badge of Silver's main threat could be Gators N Bears, who has won four added-money races since July, including the Hoover Stakes three weeks ago. As sharp as Gators N Bears has been, however, trainer Leo Nechamkin fears the General George may unfold into a one-horse race.

"Badge of Silver will go out to the front, and if he does, hopefully we'll be one of the horses waiting for him to back up a little, if he actually does, because he is a nice horse," Nechamkin said. "There are a lot of closers in this race, and that is my biggest concern."

Badge of Silver, a 4-year-old colt who was a leading Triple Crown prospect until he was injured last March, is on a path that trainer Ronny Werner hopes will culminate in the Breeders' Cup Classic in October.

For the moment, however, Werner and owner Ken Ramsey are trying to bring Badge of Silver along slowly.

"We were kind of thinking about the New Orleans Handicap," Werner said, "but with the time we had, it would have been a pretty good jump between three-quarters and going a mile and an eighth. So we opted to go to the General George and kind of walk him up the ladder. We want to keep him sound this year, and I think we are going to have some fun with him. We just need to spread these races out and hope he keeps coming back."

Besides Gators N Bears, seven horses will test Badge of Silver in the General George, including the New York-based Peeping Tom, who won this race three years ago and was runner-up in 2003. The 7-year-old Peeping Tom looked his old self winning the Paumonok Handicap at Aqueduct with a Beyer Figure of 103 on Jan. 24.

Also shipping in from New York are Well Fancied, who has won five New York-bred stakes races, and Way to the Top, who was fourth in the Grade 1 De Francis Dash and runner-up to Shake You Down in the Grade 3 Gravesend.