04/01/2004 12:00AM

Peace Rules, Saint Liam in rematch

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HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The rematch is on.

Peace Rules and Saint Liam, who put on a thrilling stretch run last out in the New Orleans Handicap, will renew their budding rivalry Saturday in the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap. Saint Liam will break from post 2 in the 1 1/8-mile race for older horses, while Peace Rules will be right next door in post 3.

The Oaklawn Handicap will share a program with the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, and together the races will make for the annual Million Dollar Saturday card. The two stakes will be linked by a special daily double, and it would be no surprise to see both halves swept by trainer Bobby Frankel and jockey Jerry Bailey.

Frankel and Bailey will team with Peace Rules in the Oaklawn Handicap and with Wild Spirit in the Apple Blossom.

Bailey was aboard Peace Rules in the New Orleans Handicap on Feb. 29, when the front-running colt came on again from along the rail after being headed to defeat Saint Liam by a head in a vibrant stretch battle. There was contact between the two horses and a claim of foul by Edgar Prado, the rider of Saint Liam, but in the end Peace Rules was left up as the winner.

Despite being a multiple Grade 1 winner of $2.4 million, Peace Rules has often raced in the shadows of his more prominent stablemates, Empire Maker and Medaglia d'Oro. But his win in the New Orleans gained him new respect, although his game effort was no surprise to Frankel, who trains the horse for owner Edmund Gann.

"He's always shown that kind of guts," Frankel said.

"He seems to have come out of it really well. Looking at him, and the way he's acting, he came out of it in good shape."

Saint Liam also emerged from the New Orleans race in good order. He was extremely game in his first major handicap appearance, and since then has been training sharply at Oaklawn.

"I couldn't be happier with the way he's going right now," said Richard Dutrow Jr., who trains Saint Liam for Mr. and Mrs. William Warren Jr.

Saint Liam worked four furlongs in a bullet 46.80 seconds Tuesday, and will again be ridden by Prado.

Any of the remaining four starters is capable of pulling an upset. The Elliott Walden-trained Ole Faunty is looking for his fourth straight win on the heels of a victory in the $150,000 Campbell at Laurel. Private Emblem has never been beaten at Oaklawn in four starts. Sonic West won the Grade 3 Razorback last out at Oaklawn, and Sir Cherokee had a major excuse in the New Orleans Handicap.

Sir Cherokee was bumped, stepped on, and squeezed back in a messy first-turn crowding incident. He sustained only superficial injuries, and finished sixth.

"The thing that bothered me about the race was that we came out of there not knowing where we fit in the scheme of the handicap horses this year," said Mike Tomlinson, who trains Sir Cherokee. "We went in thinking we belonged and left scratching our heads."

Sir Cherokee, who won the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at Sam Houston Race Park, scored his biggest career win last year at Oaklawn in the Arkansas Derby. A strong closer, he would benefit if Peace Rules is hooked early by either Saint Liam or Ole Faunty.

Private Emblem is also a past Arkansas Derby winner; he won it in 2002. But on Saturday, Peace Rules is the one to catch and beat.