10/31/2002 12:00AM

'Essai' takes on older rivals in title quest

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Prince of Wales victor Le Cinquieme Essai will be at Woodbine Sunday to contest the $100,000 Labeeb Stakes, a mile race on the turf. His trainer, Paul Nielsen, hopes a victory over older runners will earn Le Cinquieme Essai a Sovereign Award as champion 3-year-old colt or gelding in Canada.

Le Cinquieme Essai, a gelding, has won 4 of 5 starts this year. His loss came in Woodbine's Colonel R.S. McLaughlin Handicap, in which he finished last as the highweight. Nielsen blamed the loss on Le Cinquieme Essai displacing his tongue.

Three weeks later, on Oct. 5, sporting a tongue strap for the first time, Le Cinquieme Essai triumphed in a tough optional-claiming turf race at Woodbine.

"He's been working well since his last," said Nielsen. "This will be his last start of the year. He's going to Florida" - Payson Park - "for the winter."

Nielsen will be represented at Woodbine Saturday by Powderjay, who is entered in an optional claimer at 1 1/8 miles on the grass.

Owned by Layton Register of Kentucky, Powderjay joined Nielsen's barn in the spring because it was thought she would be more competitive here. She had one win from five starts at the time. In Canada, she is 2 for 4.

Powderjay finished third in her first two starts for Nielsen. Switched to the turf, the 4-year-old Powderjay won both starts handily, the last being the Miss Moneypenny Stakes on Sept. 2 at 1 1/16 miles.

Powderjay "worked a half in 49 Tuesday - dynamite," said Nielsen, who believes the farther she runs, the better she is.

"After this weekend she'll be out of my care. She's going to Churchill Downs. Layton's sister [a trainer], Allison, will get her."

Winning combination

Since being reunited, jockey Lisa Hammett and Original One have combined to win a pair of races. The victories, on the last two Tuesdays, were numbers three and four this year for Original One, a one-eyed gelding.

Last year, trainer John Simms said he had trouble getting a rider to stick with Original One until Hammett came along. The pairing led to five 2001 wins.

But because of an injury, Hammett was late starting this season.

"We sort of waited for her to get her condition back," said Pike. "She loves the horse. She's the one that developed him last year."

Fort to race 117 days in 2003

Fort Erie has been granted 117 racing dates for next year. The meeting will begin April 26 and end Nov. 11.

The four Wednesday racing days on this year's schedule were dropped. Instead, the track will go straight to a four-day racing week from the start of the meeting. This year, Tuesdays were added to the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday schedule in the fourth week.