01/22/2004 1:00AM

Peace Rules out of Empire Maker's shadow


ARCADIA, Calif. - Peace Rules might have been the most underappreciated 3-year-old of 2003. Consider his resume. He won the Blue Grass Stakes, finished third in the Kentucky Derby, was second in the Travers Stakes, and beat Funny Cide not once but twice, in both the Louisiana Derby and the Haskell Invitational. Yet at year's end, he did not even finish in the top three among Eclipse Award finalists for a divisional championship.

Much of the reason is that Peace Rules failed when the spotlight shined brightest. No one much remembers who finished anywhere other than first in the Kentucky Derby. His chance at redemption in the Preakness Stakes was a miserable failure; he was fourth. And in the Breeders' Cup Mile, he finished last of 13 as the favorite.

But the other reason Peace Rules was overlooked all year was just a few stalls down the shed row of trainer Bobby Frankel. Empire Maker, the Derby favorite and Belmont Stakes winner, attracted all the attention and grabbed the headlines while Peace Rules was shuffled off to the side. Now that Empire Maker has been retired, Peace Rules might finally get some overdue acclaim.

His first chance comes in Saturday's $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita. The 1 1/8-mile race is scheduled to be the first start as a 4-year-old for Peace Rules. Because Peace Rules was bred in Florida, Frankel has kept Peace Rules out of Santa Anita's Strub Series to point for the Sunshine Millions, which is restricted to horses bred in either Florida or California. According to Frankel, Peace Rules is coming into the Sunshine Millions in excellent condition.

"He runs well fresh," Frankel said. "He's been real aggressive breezing in the morning. He's had three three-quarter-mile works. He likes to go out and do his work. He gallops strong, this horse."

Peace Rules is one of the most versatile horses currently racing. Although Peace Rules is best known for his success in major 3-year-old races last year, and for his failure on turf in the Breeders' Cup Mile, he is an accomplished turf runner, with three victories in five starts, including the Generous Stakes and Hill Rise Stakes as a 2-year-old. In fact, the only time he has finished out of the money on turf came in the Breeders' Cup.

"It's hard to say which surface he's better on," Frankel said. "I'm just going to take it one race at a time this year. Right now it makes sense to run him on dirt."

Peace Rules has not raced since the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 25. His performance that day was the worst of his career. Frankel, though, believes it to be an aberration.

"It was hot that day, and he didn't sweat," Frankel said. "He wasn't right in the paddock. He didn't get warm. It was easy to get heat prostration. He and Tates Creek got heat prostration. Then he got sick after the race. But he's acting real good now."

He's also looking good. The chestnut-colored Peace Rules was rather light-framed when Frankel bought him privately as a 2-year-old on behalf of owner Ed Gann. But he has matured into a grand-looking animal.

"He was a light horse. He almost looked like a filly," Frankel said. "He's really developed. It was gradual. Even with the constant training, he did it, but he really developed between the Preakness and the Haskell. Medaglia d'Oro developed, too, but he was a big, strong horse to begin with."

The comparisons to Medaglia d'Oro are obvious. Both were purchased for fairly inexpensive sums early in their careers by Frankel on behalf of Gann. Both went through the grind of the Triple Crown, with Medaglia d'Oro running in all three legs. Last year, at age 4, Medaglia d'Oro was one of the top older horses in the country. He won the Whitney Handicap, and was second in the Pacific Classic and Breeders' Cup Classic. Peace Rules will try to head down that same path this year.

But in a twist all too telling for the career of Peace Rules, Medaglia d'Oro is still around. Still with Frankel. Still owned by Gann. And, with the exception of the Sunshine Millions, eligible for the same type of races to which Peace Rules might be pointed. Peace Rules has finally escaped the shadow of Empire Maker, only to find that of Medaglia d'Oro looming.

For Gann, Frankel also has to juggle the race schedule of Midas Eyes, like Peace Rules another top 4-year-old. Midas Eyes was also entered in the Sunshine Millions Classic, but only as a backup. He is scheduled to run in the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 7. Medaglia d'Oro is also scheduled to run Feb. 7, in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park.

Peace Rules has made $2,059,990, but Medaglia d'Oro is at the top of Frankel and Gann's pecking order. Not that Frankel is giving Peace Rules the back of his hand.

"He's a nice horse," Frankel said. "Everything's good with him. He's not a bother. Because of that, at the barn, he's the kind you don't pay much attention to."

That figures.