08/04/2004 11:00PM

Whitney cast speed-oriented

Peace Rules, exercising Friday with Jose Cuevas, figures to have plenty of company up front in the Whitney.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The nine-horse field assembled for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 is so deep that even the ever-confident Bobby Frankel was more reserved than usual in discussing the chances of multiple Grade 1 winner Peace Rules.

Frankel seeks his third Whitney victory in the last four years, this time with Peace Rules, who comes in off a gutty neck victory over Newfoundland and Funny Cide in the Grade 1 Suburban Handicap last month. What concerns Frankel the most is the presence of Roses in May, Yessirgeneralsir, and Seattle Fitz, all of whom have the same front-running style as Peace Rules.

"It's going to be a tough race for Peace Rules the way the race is going to set up,'' said Frankel, who won this race in 2001 with Lido Palace and in 2003 with Medaglia d'Oro. "He's going to have a lot of company. I think Perfect Drift is the horse it sets up for.''

Jerry Bailey, who has won five of the last 12 Whitneys, doesn't see the plethora of speed as a problem for Peace Rules. Peace Rules sat second in the early stages of the Oaklawn Park Handicap, and was passed by Funny Cide in the stretch of the Suburban before coming back to win.

"He does really well sitting off a horse,'' said Bailey, who will ride Peace Rules, the 121-pound highweight, from post 8. "Sometimes there's not enough speed to let that happen.''

Peace Rules is 4 for 6 at the Whitney distance of nine furlongs.

The depth of the Whitney is such that Perfect Drift, a Grade 1 winner of 2003, could be 10-1 come post time. He has not won since last September's Hawthorne Gold Cup, and is 0 for 4 this year. Perfect Drift underwent a myectomy to repair a breathing problem after running last in the Stephen Foster in June and responded with a second-place finish in the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows. The horse who beat him, Roses in May, is also entered in the Whitney.

"I feel way more comfortable going into the Whitney than I did the Cornhusker,'' said Murray Johnson, who trains Perfect Drift. "Last time, everybody was worried about us. Circumstances of the race ended up that we were on the inside, which was very bad that day. He ran a great race, and we feel they'll have plenty more to worry about than just us.''

Roses in May is 3 for 3 this year, and trainer Dale Romans said he is anxious to see how he fares in Grade 1 company. Roses in May's speed is his biggest asset, and Romans thinks his opponents could be compromised if they run with him.

"He's not run-off speed, he's just been faster than the horses he's run with,'' Romans said. "If he goes to the front, I don't think anybody wants to go with him. He's a pretty fast horse and he keeps on going."

The Whitney affords Seattle Fitz the opportunity to stake his claim as one of the top handicap horses in the country. He has won the William Donald Schaefer Handicap and the Brooklyn since undergoing a second myectomy operation. His connections believe he runs well with time between races, and that is why they skipped the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Trainer Todd Pletcher would like to see Newfoundland a little farther off the pace than he was when third in the Brooklyn and second in the Suburban. He thinks "that will be easier to do'' going two turns in the Whitney. John Velazquez rides from post 9.

Gygistar won the Grade 1 King's Bishop over this track and was beaten less than two lengths in the Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap, his first start around two turns. Sarava ran his best race since upsetting the 2002 Belmont Stakes when beaten one length in the Suburban. Bowman's Band, winless since the 2003 Meadowlands Cup, could benefit from the expected fast pace. He goes out for Allen Jerkens, who upset Secretariat with Onion in the 1973 Whitney.

The field

Whitney Handicap
Purse: $750,000; 1 1/8 miles; Grade 1

1 Perfect Drift P. Day 117 6-1
2 Roses in May E. Prado 114 12-1
3 Yessirgeneralsir O. Figueroa 113 15-1
4 Bowman's Band J. Chavez 114 8-1
5 Sarava J. Castellano 113 12-1
6 Gygistar J. Bravo 113 8-1
7 Seattle Fitz R. Migliore 117 7-2
8 Peace Rules J. Bailey 121 5-2
9 Newfoundland J. Velazquez 114 4-1

* Odds by Dan Illman
* Television: Saturday, 5-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN