06/03/2005 12:00AM

Tricky distance for both favorites


At seven furlongs, the Zen Handicap might be too far for Silver Bid, and too short for Wiggins. But any horse can succeed at any distance, given the right competition, and one of these two top-shelf Illinois-breds should emerge from Sunday's $40,000 Zen at Arlington Park with a win.

In fact, the people closest to both horses believe the seven-furlong trip is no issue.

"I'm not concerned about the distance at all," said Joel Berndt, Silver Bid's trainer. "He won here last year at seven furlongs. He was second going a mile and 70 yards."

Wiggins has made his last six starts in two-turn route races, though he sprinted with success early in his career, during the 2002 and 2003 seasons.

"He can still show that speed if you ask him to," said trainer Tony Granitz.

The Zen, a stepping-stone to the six-furlong White Oak Handicap on the June 25 Prairie State festival for Illinois-breds, drew a field of nine. Besides the two favorites, the race also brings out a pair of talented comeback horses, Persuaggle and Just See James. Both figure to be a race or more away from their best. To win, any of the other five horses would need a career-best performance, or a faltering one from the favorites. Shandy has beaten both Silver Bid and Wiggins on his day, but hasn't turned in a peak performance in almost a year. Big Bold Sweep was good enough to contend a few months ago, but appeared to have lost his edge in his two most recent starts.

And so it boils down to Silver Bid and Wiggins, two of the most accomplished Illinois-breds racing. Silver Bid has owned the statebred sprint division for two years, but finished second at odds of 4-5 to Take Achance on Me in his last start, the April 30 Chicagoland Handicap, done in by an inside-speed bias that left him no chance to catch a loose-on-the-lead winner.

Silver Bid will be on or near a moderate to quick pace in the Zen - but can he stay the trip? At distances of six furlongs or less, Silver Bid has won 14 of 32 starts. Going farther, he's only 2 for 11.

Wiggins should be gaining late. He finished sixth last out in the Milwaukee Avenue, also April 30 at Hawthorne, but hadn't raced in five months.

"We wanted to get a race for him, but we couldn't find one," Granitz said.

Now Wiggins has gotten his tightener. Can he get up in time?