Five weeks after giving everything he had to win the Suburban Handicap (gr. I) by a neck over Newfoundland, Edmund Gann's Peace Rules will have his work cut out for him once again as he faces a field with quick speed horses in Saturday's 77th running of the $750,000 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga.
The 1 1/8-mile Whitney (post time, 5:44 p.m. EDT) and the grade II, $150,000 Amsterdam (post time 5:10 p.m. EDT) for 3-year-olds going six furlongs. will both be televised on ESPN during a one-hour telecast that begins at 5 p.m. EDT.
Peace Rules, the 121-pound highweight in the Whitney's nine-horse field, had to gut it out in the Suburban on July 3. The fleet-footed son of Jules got away to a measured lead under Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey. After going a first quarter-mile in a fairly easy :23 4/5, Peace Rules sped up, running a half in :46 1/5 and three quarters in 1:09 1/5, meaning his second and third quarters were :22 2/5 and :23, very fast for a 1 1/4-mile race.
Bailey left room for Funny Cide to come up the inside and in the stretch, Funny Cide grabbed the lead away from Peace Rules. But the race was far from over. Rallying between Funny Cide and a surging Newfoundland, Peace Rules came back to win under a strong hand-ride from Bailey.
"He looked so beaten, I turned away," said Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who teamed up with Bailey to win the 2003 Whitney with Medaglia d'Oro. "If you watch it, Jerry puts the stick away and then he comes back on his own. He was drawing away again at the end. They were spent, the other horses."
Bailey, a five-time Whitney winner, thinks Peace Rules' heart is what got him the Suburban victory.
"I always thought that he ran from the stick very well," Bailey said. "The only reason I put it away was because he was already giving me everything he had. Whether it was putting the stick away or Newfoundland coming on the outside, he seemed determined he was going to win. He wanted to win more than any horse in the race."
Roses in May and Yessirgeneralsir do their best running on the lead and they could mix it up with Peace Rules early in the Whitney. Bailey will try to avoid getting involved in a wicked pace war.
"He doesn't necessarily have to be on the lead, but he's not going to be far off," Bailey said. "If a horse continues to go fast, he can rate off suicidal fractions."
Peace Rules won the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) sitting off another horse and his finishing kick was not compromised. When a rider takes him back, like Bailey tried in the Sunshine Millions Classic, Peace Rules does not respond well.
Winless in three starts over off tracks, Peace Rules will not run in the Whitney if the track comes up wet, according to Frankel.
Sumaya Us Stables' Newfoundland won a pair of stakes to start off the year in Florida and has run three solid efforts since, including his runner-up finish to Peace Rules in the Suburban.
"The headline was 'Peace Rules Beats Funny Cide,' but they forgot to mention Newfoundland finished in the middle of the two," trainer Todd Pletcher said.
Newfoundland was up close and chasing Peace Rules in the Suburban. Pletcher believes the presence of more early speed and a furlong less to run swill help the 4-year-old son of Storm Cat
"It looks like there's going to be a fairly honest pace scenario," Pletcher said. "Hopefully we could settle just a touch off those other horses and let someone else do the dirty work. I think he's a little better at a mile and an eighth than he is at a mile and a quarter. We're hoping the cutback in distance will help."
Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Brooklyn Handicap (gr. II) winner Seattle Fitz, is somewhat concerned about where his horse draws and how the pace will develop. The 5-year-old has won while tracking pacesetters, but he captured the Brooklyn battling away in a fast-paced race. He drew post seven in this nine-horse field.
"The problems are going to be post position, two turns, and other speed horses in the race," McLaughlin said. "I didn't really want to be drawn outside because we could get hung out four-wide on the first turn. Richie (Migliore, jockey) might like to be outside, but I'd like to be inside around the first turn and then maybe get him to the outside. It's going to be a rider's race and there's definitely going to be some strategy involved."
Seattle Fitz made a pair of Spa starts last summer, finishing second and fifth. McLaughlin does not want to see a repeat of his Aug. 24 performance when he broke from post seven of nine in the nine-furlong event and was parked four-wide throughout the race.
Stonecrest Farm's Perfect Drift is yet to win in four starts this year after a sharp 5-for-8 2003 campaign. He finished a weakening third in the Stephen Foster (gr. I) and then chased home loose-on-the-lead winner Roses in May in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III).
"The first couple starts he definitely needed," said trainer Murray Johnson. "He came up with a throat problem for the Stephen Foster, then bounced back and ran a great race in the Cornhusker. They said he was losing 25% of his air in the Foster."
With his breathing problem corrected, Perfect Drift was the victim of down-the-road winner Roses in May at Prairie Meadows. Although the competition is tougher in the Whitney, Johnson thinks it may be an easier race for Perfect Drift than the Cornhusker.
"I feel way more comfortable going into the Whitney than I did the Cornhusker," said the native Australian. "Last time, everybody was worried about us. They'll have plenty more to worry about than just us this time. The pace scenario is one of the reasons we're here."
Roses in May has run some impressive races, but has yet to face a field with the depth of the Whitney. All of his victories have come while on the lead and the Whitney pace scenario cannot help. In the Suburban, New Phoenix Stable's Sarava ran his best race since his 70-1 upset in the 2002 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). A fast pace would help Sarava.
$750,000 Whitney Handicap
PP -- Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Weight.
1 -- Perfect Drift, Murray Johnson, Pat Day, 117
2 -- Roses in May, Dale Romans, Edgar Prado, 114
3 – Yessirgeneralsir, Dallas Keen, Omar Figueroa, 113
4 -- Bowman's Band, H. Allen Jerkens, Jorge Chavez, 114
5 – Sarava, Bob Baffert, Javier Castellano, 113
6 – Gygistar, Mark Hennig, Joe Bravo. 113
7 -- Seattle Fitz, Kiaran McLaughlin, Richard Migliore, 117
8 -- Peace Rules, Bobby Frankel, Jerry Bailey, 121
9 – Newfoundland, Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez, 114