When Harlan's Holiday won last year's Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) in a time of 1:51.51, it was the slowest winning time in the 1 1/8-mile race since Granacus (1:52) beat Intensive Command by three lengths in 1988. On Saturday, Peace Rules creeped home slower than Harlan's Holiday, finishing the key Kentucky Derby prep race in 1:51.73 on the fast track.
Under jockey Edgar Prado, the Edmund Gann-owned Peace Rules led all the way to take the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, defeating Brancusi by 3 1/4 lengths to give trainer Bobby Frankel his second major Kentucky Derby prep win in an hour's time. The slow final time and finishing fraction didn't end doubts about the son of Jules' ability to get 1 1/4 miles in three weeks.
"He's a very game horse," Frankel said. "The only question is whether he can get the Derby distance. I felt comfortable when I saw him get the easy lead. He is a game little horse and they can come to him, but he's tough to get by. I think this was a strong race for him."
Peace Rules broke well, then eased to the outside a bit heading into the first turn to further complicate traffic trouble in the wake of Brancusi coming to the inside after breaking from post nine. Brancusi then followed Peace Rules around the Lexington oval before putting in a bid at the top of the stretch. Peace Rules responded to the challenge en route to the win.
"It's great to win one of the premier races in the country," said Prado, who dedicated the victory to the troops fighting in Iraq. "It was an easy ride. He broke well and was keen early. I had a tight hold on him trying to settle him down. We were kind of fighting each other early and my saddle slipped a little bit but he settled down and when the other horse (Brancusi) came to me he took off again."
In spite of his Derby distance concerns, Frankel said Peace Rules would continue on to the Derby on May 3.
"To win the Derby would be the biggest accomplishment of my career," said Frankel, who also trains the other leading contender, Wood and Florida Derby (both grade I) winner Empire Maker. "I've always watched it on TV and I've been jealous that other people were there and I wasn't. I'll be there this year."
"He ran really well. I wasn't worried when Brancusi drew up alongside him because if you know the horse, you know he is a real fighter. We will definitely be running him in the Derby."
The win is the fourth straight for Peace Rules, dating back to a 1 1/4-length win in the Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Hollywood Park last fall. He also won the Hill Rise Stakes and Louisiana Derby (gr. II) during his current streak. Peace Rules earned $465,000 for the win to go over the $1-million mark for career earnings. He was bred in Florida by Newchance Farm and was trained by Gary Contessa through his maiden win.
"Bobby (Frankel) has the number one horse (Empire Maker), but being second isn't all that bad," Gann said.
Brancusi and jockey Tony Farina survived a claim of foul from Kent Desormeaux aboard foruth-place finisher Crowned Dancer for an incident on the first turn.
"I thought it was overly aggressive by the other rider (Farina)," Desormeaux said. "It's not like it was for one or two strides but he played ping-pong with us for 100 yards. I thought it was poor sportsmanship. As for the horse, I don't know if he came up empty because of racing or because he got all of the roughing up in the first turn."
Farina said he was encouraged by Brancusi's performance.
"He was trying hard at the finish. Today, he was very good and he improved a lot from his last start. Hopefully in the Kentucky Derby, he will improve off this effort," Farina said. "The 1 1/4 miles should be no problem for him. He has a good action and maybe the longer distance will be better for him."
Offlee Wild finished four lengths farther back in third, followed by Crowned Dancer, Acceptable Venture, Lion Tamer, Lots of Sizzle, Ten Cents A Shine, and Great Notion.
Peace Rules paid $3.20, $2.40 and $2.10 for the win. Brancusi returned $5 and $3 and completed the $20.20 exacta. Offlee Wild paid $2.40.