Keep the Peace!

May 13, 2003 7:15 AM

The Preakness may not have the stature of the Kentucky Derby, but with Derby winner Funny Cide in the running, the possibility always exists for a Triple Crown winner.

The operative word is "possibility." Possible, but not probable.

Funny Cide ran a great Kentucky Derby, breaking cleanly, dropping in behind the leaders, then taking the lead when the blistering fractions (:46.23, 1:10.48 and 1:35.75) flattened out the leaders.

Actually, in the stretch drive, the only remaining "leader" was Peace Rules, who held on gamely for third place.

Making a late run in the Derby drive were Empire Maker and Atswhatimtalknbout. Neither of those horses is entered in the Preakness.

Based on his performance in the Kentucky Derby, Funny Cide can’t be ignored. But the question arises whether he will get such a perfect trip again. In addition, Funny Cide will have to navigate Pimlico’s notoriously sharp turns.

Which brings us back to Peace Rules. No one can question the heart of this colt. He either set or forced those suicidal fractions (last year’s winner, War Emblem, had "comfortable" fractions of :47, 1:11.60 and 1:36.60), but held on gamely to get the show money.

Note that the other frontrunner, Brancusi, tired badly and finished dead last!

But gutsy performances are nothing new for Peace Rules. He showed dogged determination in both the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass Stakes (both victories) prior to the Derby.

His trainer, Bobby Frankel, elected to keep his other colt, Empire Maker, out of the Preakness, presumably for a run at the marathon Belmont Stakes in three weeks.

For now, the trainer is optimistic about Peace Rules’ chances over the shorter 1 3/16 mile Preakness. "I think it will be perfect," Frankel said.

The probable starters in the Preakness also include a few horses that by-passed the Kentucky Derby. Among them, Senior Swinger is worth a close look.

Senior Swinger, trained by Bob Baffert, finished fifth in the Wood Memorial (behind Empire Maker and Funny Cide), but won the Grade 3 American Turf at Churchill Downs the day before the Derby.

"We know he loves the turf, but we’re also hoping he can deliver a special effort on the dirt," Baffert said. "From what he is telling us now, the trip (to Baltimore) should be worthwhile."

Indeed, Senior Swinger has a possibility of hitting the board on Saturday.

There are also a couple of longshots worth tossing into the mix of exotic (exacta, trifecta and superfecta) wagers.

Alysweep looked good winning the Gotham at Aqueduct in March, and he’s won four of eight career starts. He’s fresh and could be dangerous in this spot.

Another outsider with a chance at the marbles is Champali, who finished second in the Derby Trial.

In an interesting game of "musical saddles," Jerry Bailey will be riding Champali and Pat Day will pilot Senor Swinger. In the Derby Trial, Bailey rode winner Midas Eyes and Day had the mount on Chapali.

What does all this mean? Better to rely on the horse!

Here are my Preakness selections:

1. Peace Rules

2. Senior Swinger

3. Funny Cide

4. Alysweep