'Peace' presents challenge for Funny Cide
BALTIMORE -- Peace Rules has beaten Funny Cide before, and jockey Edgar Prado says there's no reason why his colt can't do it again in the Preakness.
The horses raced against each other twice, with Peace Rules taking the Louisiana Derby two months ago, and Funny Cide, of course, winning the Kentucky Derby on May 3.
``Now we'll see who wins the next race,'' said Prado, who had Peace Rules on the lead at Churchill Downs before the horse tired and finished third -- just two lengths behind. ``My horse doesn't give up easily, and I think we have a strong chance.''
If Funny Cide wins Saturday's 1 3/16th-mile Preakness, then it's on to the Belmont Stakes in three weeks with a shot at becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. If Peace Rules -- or any of the other eight 3-year-olds entered Wednesday -- prevails, then the Belmont will be out of a Triple try for just the third time in the last seven years.
Mention ``Triple Crown'' around Funny Cide's barn and the reaction from trainer Barclay Tagg and assistant trainer Robin Smuller is the same.
``All we're concerned about is trying to win the Preakness,'' Tagg said.
While Funny Cide has been in the headlines since becoming the first New York-bred and first gelding since 1929 to win the Derby, Peace Rules just keeps running strong races and earning lots of money for owner Edmund Gann.
The chestnut colt trained by Bobby Frankel has been overshadowed by stablemate Empire Maker, the Derby favorite who finished second. But even with Empire Maker sitting out the Preakness -- he'll run in the Belmont -- Peace Rules now takes a back stall to Funny Cide, who may not even arrive from Belmont Park until race day.
Peace Rules, meanwhile, will arrive from New York on Thursday.
``As long as we come out on top Saturday, it's OK if we're second choice now,'' Prado said in a telephone interview. ``I'd rather be second choice then third, fourth or fifth.''
Prado, who dominated Maryland racing in the 1990s and now rides in New York and Florida, won his first Triple Crown race last year -- the Belmont, aboard 70-1 shot Sarava. To win the Preakness, over the Pimlico track he called home for so many years, would be an even bigger accomplishment.
``This is the best horse I've had for the Preakness,'' said Prado, who is 0-for-6 with two fourth-place finishes, including last year aboard Harlan's Holiday. ``I've also watched from the grandstand, and it would be a big thrill to win for all my friends and all the racing people there who have been so good to me.''
While Funny Cide and Peace Rules are the top contenders, don't count out trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The Hall of Famer brings his two Derby starters -- Ten Cents a Shine and Scrimshaw -- to the race he has won five times.
``We have to move forward,'' said Lukas, who arrived at the Pimlico stakes barn Wednesday. Funny Cide, he added, ``can maybe do just what he did, but we have to get better. I'm counting on getting a little better, but I'm not positive of that, either.''
Bob Baffert, looking for his third straight Preakness win, sends out Senor Swinger. The colt won the Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill Downs the day before the Derby, but Baffert wants to give Senor Swinger another chance to win on dirt.
Five non-Derby starters complete the field -- Kissin Saint, Foufa's Warrior, Midway Road, Cherokee's Boy and New York Hero.
Peace Rules has five wins in nine starts for earnings of $1,209,900. Frankel bought the colt after a win on grass at Belmont on Sept. 25. The Hall of Fame trainer kept Peace Rules on grass for three races, with two wins. The move to dirt came in the Louisiana Derby and, with Prado aboard for the first time, the colt won by 2 1/4 lengths. Funny Cide was third after a late rally.
``I thought he was dropping back, but he showed courage and fight to finish where he did,'' Prado said. ``He did the same thing against Empire Maker in the Wood to finish second.''
Peace Rules had an easy time winning the Blue Grass Stakes on April 12 to earn a trip to the Derby. And while Frankel was uncertain whether the colt could last 1 1/4 miles in the Derby, Peace Rules led for nearly a mile and then hung tough for third. The Preakness is 110 yards shorter than the Derby.
``My horse loves to fight, too,'' Prado said. ``He's very gutsy and leaves everything on the track. He'll run as hard as he can.''