05/14/2003 11:00PM

Mike Watchmaker's Preakness Analysis

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Peace Rules ran a terrific race finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, and he is my selection to get the job done in the Preakness.

The most obvious reason why Peace Rules earned positive reviews for his effort at Churchill Downs was that after disputing a strong early pace going a distance most agreed was beyond his scope, he was beaten only two lengths by Funny Cide, who enjoyed a perfect trip, and just a head for second by the favored Empire Maker.

But, there is another reason why Peace Rules deserves a lot of credit for his Derby try: He had only two starts this year prior to his appearance at Churchill. The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby following two or fewer preps as a 3-year-old was Sunny's Halo (two preps) in 1983. Before him, you have to go way back to 1947 and Jet Pilot, who won the Derby following two preps. Since Sunny's Halo, 27 horses have attempted to win the Derby with two or fewer preps, and Peace Rules's third-place finish was better than all but three of them - Bold Arrangement, second in 1986; Best Pal, second in 1991; and Victory Gallop, second in 1998. The last horse to attempt to win the Derby with only two preps was Point Given, who finished fifth in 2001 despite being a strong favorite. But, in what may be at least a partial harbinger for Peace Rules, Point Given rebounded to win the Preakness and then the Belmont Stakes.

In addition, Peace Rules, as he demonstrated in his Louisiana Derby victory (in which he decisively defeated Funny Cide), is capable of rating better off the early lead than he did in the Derby. With suspect speed in this Preakness field, Peace Rules can work out a perfect trip this time.

I expect Senor Swinger to run a good race Saturday. He has improved since moving into trainer Bob Baffert's barn; the turf to dirt move following his decisive victory in the Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill the day before the Derby is appealing; and his closing style fits the anticipated pace scenario. But, I think a fair win price on Senor Swinger would be around 8-1. The mere fact that Baffert trains him, and that he is part of a common ownership entry with Scrimshaw, will drive his odds down into the underlaid neighborhood of 5-1.

Funny Cide is consistent, and honest, and he can certainly win this. Then again, there is no guarantee he will get another perfect trip like he did in the Derby. With Peace Rules expected to raise his game Saturday and with Funny Cide's parimutuel value completely gone, that makes the Derby winner a bet-against.

Foufa's Warrior had an awful trip in the Crown Royal American Turf, but finished fast to gain third behind Senor Swinger. His closing style also fits the pace scenario, and he is worth including underneath in exotic wagers.