Sunday, April 13, 2003

Peace Rules wins Blue Grass Stakes

He's second string in Frankel's barn for Ky. Derby

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEXINGTON - Raising the index and middle fingers together could mean the number two or the sign for peace. In the case of the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Saturday at Keeneland, it meant both.

Peace Rules ruled the race, winning by 3 1/2 lengths to establish himself as a Kentucky Derby contender. While he might end up the second choice in the Derby odds, he's still not the best in his barn.

That's because Bobby Frankel, Peace Rules' trainer, also trains prohibitive Derby favorite Empire Maker. "Our horse is the second string in Bobby's mind," Peace Rules owner Edmund Gann said. "Of course, we're not giving up yet."

Gann wasn't exaggerating about Frankel. Thursday, talking to reporters about Empire Maker after the Wood Memorial draw, the trainer had forgotten when entries were due for the Blue Grass. He hurriedly called Keeneland and was relieved to find Peace Rules had been entered in time.

Once in, the colt did fine. He broke to the lead within the first quarter-mile, as jockey Edgar Prado's saddle slipped as he tried to slow the horse's pace. Prado had him maintain a comfortable lead, and when runner-up Brancusi closed within a length at the top of the stretch, Peace Rules pulled away to win in a modest 1:51.73 on a fast track. Offlee Wild finished third.

Prado, who won the Blue Grass last year aboard Harlan's Holiday, dedicated the victory to the U.S. troops in Iraq, saying, "Let peace rule around the world."

Whether this horse can rule around the Churchill Downs oval on May 3 is a bigger question. Peace Rules has won four consecutive starts, but Saturday was just his second race of the year and second since moving off the turf.

He had the slowest winning time in the Blue Grass since 1988, and his last 3/8 of a mile came in a glacial 40.4 seconds. Also, the last horse to win the Derby off just two starts as a 3-year-old was Sunny's Halo in 1983.

"This was a strong race for him," Frankel said of Peace Rules in an interview from New York, where he saw Empire Maker win the Wood. "The only question is if he can get the Derby distance."

Peace Rules had been trained by Gary Contessa, but bloodstock agent Mark Reid recommended Gann buy him last fall. When Gann did, he sent the horse to Frankel.

"We saw the horse run in New York (before being sold), and he didn't look like much," said Alberto Ascanio, Frankel's assistant trainer. "But he got beat (by) a head in his first race in California and hasn't lost since."

The horse had an impressive 2 1/4-length victory March 9 in the Louisiana Derby to set himself up for Saturday's victory.

Frankel, 61, was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1995 and has won the past three Eclipse Awards as the nation's top trainer. Yet the Derby remains an elusive prize. Frankel has had four Derby starters, enduring close calls with Aptitude (second) in 2000 and Medaglia d'Oro (fourth) last year.

"To win the Derby would be the biggest accomplishment of my career," Frankel said. "I've always watched it on TV and been jealous that other people were there and I wasn't. I'll be there this year."

As for Peace Rules, Gann is content to fly under the radar.

"He's not that bad," Gann said. "The minute the No. 1 horse loses, then we have a chance."


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