07/13/2006 12:00AM

Ascot Bill no toss-out in Wales


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Following the fourth-place finish of Ascot Bill in the Queen's Plate three weeks ago, his jockey Justin Stein declared excitedly that it was his mount's "best race of his life."

Stein, an apprentice, was aboard Ascot Bill in all four of his races this year. He wasn't in the saddle when Ascot Bill won his debut in his lone start last year.

"[Ascot Bill] was closing more ground than anyone else in the race," Stein said. "He was flying. It was unbelievable. It was like he was almost sprinting."

Stein also noted that he and Ascot Bill rode the rail the whole race, what he called a dream trip.

Ascot Bill, at 19-1, came within a nose of catching Malakoff for third but was 4 3/4 lengths behind race winner Edenwold and four lengths behind runner-up Sterwins.

With the benefit of a perfect trip, Ascot Bill wasn't able to run down these horses, who are all returning for Sunday's second leg of Canada's triple crown, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes here at Fort Erie.

So how can Ascot Bill succeed on Sunday, especially since the distance of the Prince of Wales is a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Queen's Plate distance of 1 1/4 miles?

For one thing, trainer Steve Attard said, Ascot Bill has improved each time out this year.

"Can we improve off the Plate?" he said. "Every race is a different strategy. I hope we can improve a little more.

"The track was really strange that day. The only horse closing in the race was mine. Everybody else stayed where they were.

"I think the Queen's Plate was a speed-favoring race, and [Woodbine] was favoring speed at the time. Hopefully, Fort Erie will be a more fair track."

Prior to the Plate, Attard said, Ascot Bill had less-than-perfect trips. In his first 2006 start he had an outside post in a field of 12 and was wide throughout. In his next start, he broke poorly, and although he was later blocked he still finished third.

In his first stakes try, the June 4 Plate Trial, Ascot Bill, with a stop-and-go trip, finished second to Pipers Thunder, who is also in the Wales field.

"He was a little chicken racing between horses," said Attard. "He really didn't want to go and backed off to last. As soon as he got clear, he took off."

Ascot Bill has been less timid since that race. "And every race he is happier too, much happier," said Attard. "He's a wild man since the Plate. I've never seen a horse come out of a race so good."

Attard, 44, is enjoying his best year in the business. Besides Ascot Bill, he trains Sweet Breanna, who ran second in both the Woodbine Oaks and Fort Erie's Bison City Stakes, the first two legs of the triple tiara for Canadian-bred 3-year-old fillies.

Both of his star runners are owned and bred by the Beclawat Stable of Leslie Pereira. The reigning Canadian Horse of the Year, A Bit O'Gold, was bred by Beclawat Stable.