03/07/2003 12:00AM

Frankel gives Peace Rules a chance

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These days, you can hear a familiar refrain from a John Lennon song: "Give peace a chance."

In this case it is no political statement. It is, instead, an endorsement of Peace Rules, who faces the current top two Kentucky Derby favorites in Sunday's Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, Kafwain and Badge of Silver.

Bobby Frankel knew who was going in the Louisiana Derby when he decided to ship Peace Rules to New Orleans. He also knew he had the option of a shorter trip to northern California and Golden Gate's Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby. That race would certainly have been an easier assignment for Peace Rules, who runs in a route on dirt for the first time Sunday.

Frankel's move with Peace Rules engenders confidence. Frankel's no dummy - he knows he's got a very nice turf horse and he doesn't want to hurt him by overmatching him.

Of course, there are also $750,000 worth of reasons to go to New Orleans. The El Camino Real purse is only $200,000. But if Frankel

didn't think Peace Rules had a chance at the big money at Fair Grounds, he wouldn't waste his time.

Asked if he was afraid of running Peace Rules against the likes of Kafwain and Badge of Silver, Frankel said, "Maybe they should be afraid of me. This is a real nice horse."

Peace Rules won the Generous and Hill Rise Stakes on the grass. Two horses he defeated in the Generous - Man Among Men and Outta Here - won stakes races on dirt in their next start.

Peace Rules has run twice on dirt, both times in maiden sprints at Saratoga, and he wasn't embarrassed either time. He finished third in his debut and fifth in the slop in his second start. He came back to romp in a mile turf race before being sold to owner Edmund Gann and joining Frankel's barn.

Also, Peace Rules has been working in terrific fashion - on dirt - the past couple of months.

In his two dirt tries, Peace Rules showed he could run inside and that he could take dirt in his face. Since blossoming on turf, he's won going wire to wire and by stalking the pace. He is versatile.

So, with everyone fixed on Badge of Silver and Kafwain, and rightly so, they figure to be around 6-5 and 7-5 in the betting. That leaves Peace Rules in the 6-1 range with the talent to spring a surprise.

Okay, Congaree can stay 10 furlongs

I stand corrected. My assessment of Congaree and his inability to negotiate 1 1/4 miles at the top level was based on the old Congaree. This new version, however, is something special.

It matters not that he lost the Santa Anita Handicap. Congaree got beat by a sharp horse who loves the track and who likely prefers 10 furlongs more than he does. But that doesn't mean Congaree can't win a top-class 10-furlong race.

A newfound patience gave Con-garee a dream trip, and he did everything right.

Congaree may still be a better horse at 1 1/8 miles, and probably better still at a mile, but he showed that if he maintains his form he'll be one of the horses to beat in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which is run at Santa Anita this year.

Considering Congaree's performance, even more credit must go to winner, Milwaukee Brew, who did something only John Henry has done - win consecutive Santa Anita Handicaps. And John Henry needed some help from the stewards to get his back-to-back wins.

Milwaukee Brew looks like a new animal. Once categorized as a dead closer, Milwaukee Brew has found more tactical speed. In the Big Cap he was situated on Congaree's hip until it was time to strike. Milwaukee Brew may well have gone from a horse capable of big efforts at times, to a good horse ready to fire every time.

It looks as though the same maturation of style that took Alysheba from good to great may now be working under the skin of Milwaukee Brew.

One thing is for sure, Milwaukee Brew adores the Santa Anita racing strip and, like Congaree, is a leading contender for the $4 million Classic in the fall.

Kudos ran extremely well to finish third, considering it was just his second start back from a serious injury and his first start in two months. He was likely giving away some fitness to the top pair (they had run a few weeks prior in the San Antonio), but now looks ready to defend his Oaklawn Handicap crown next month.

The puzzler was Pleasantly Perfect. He had finished a neck behind Milwaukee Brew in the San Antonio and appeared ready to fire big. He lagged early in the Big Cap, no real surprise, but after making a mild move flattened out. He's being pointed for the Dubai World Cup, but unless he's got more to offer he could have problems in the desert.