03/12/2003 1:00AM

Peace Rules: No Derby?


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Worried that his horse may have peaked too soon, trainer Bobby Frankel said Wednesday that Louisiana Derby winner Peace Rules may not be aimed at the Kentucky Derby.

"As of now, I'm not thinking Derby with him," Frankel said Wednesday morning at Gulfstream Park. "Maybe Lexington, and Preakness."

The Lexington will be run April 19 at Keeneland, the Preakness May 17 at Pimlico.

Frankel, in south Florida to saddle Empire Maker in Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby, said Peace Rules ran such a remarkable race off a 71-day layoff that he believes the horse needs sufficient time to recover and may be hard-pressed to make one of the major Derby preps on April 12, the Blue Grass, Arkansas Derby, and Wood Memorial.

"You almost wish he had run a little slower," Frankel said. "He'll be a nice horse for this year. I thought he'd run good, I didn't know he could beat those horses."

The other alternative would be to train Peace Rules right into the Kentucky Derby, meaning the horse would have only one race as a 3-year-old. Since 1937, horses who attempted that are 0 for 20, the most famous failure being Arazi, who finished eighth as the 9-10 favorite in 1992.

"I don't think I can train him to go a mile and a quarter off that, I'm not that good," Frankel said. "A mile and a sixteenth" - the distance of the Louisiana Derby - "is a long way from a mile and a quarter."

Perhaps part of Frankel's reluctance to run Peace Rules in the Kentucky Derby is his confidence in Empire Maker, who Frankel believes is his top Derby candidate.