07/21/2002 11:00PM

Home track advantage a huge help


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - It seemed reasonably safe to assume that the winner of Fort Erie's Prince of Wales Stakes would emerge from the Queen's Plate.

The Plate-to-Wales scenario hadn't missed a beat since 1988, when the Prince of Wales was moved from 1 1/2 miles of turf to 1 3/16 miles on the main track.

But, Le Cinquieme Essai put an end to the trend when he captured Sunday's Prince of Wales, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.

Not only was Le Cinquieme Essai, who is trained by Paul Nielsen, the only Fort Erie-based horse in the field. He was coming out of a turf allowance here at Woodbine, where he had scored in impressive fashion July 7 while making just his second start of the season.

That win was significant in more than the obvious respects.

The money he earned there also assured Le Cinquieme Essai of a berth in the Prince of Wales field if the 12-horse limit based on lifetime earnings had become a factor.

And it will serve him in good stead for the Breeders' Stakes, the 1 1/2-mile turf race which is the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown here Aug. 10.

The Prince of Wales represented a career highlight for Nielsen, owner Bill Scott, and jockey Brian Bochinski, who also is based at Fort Erie.

"I knew the home track would be big for him," said Nielsen. "He trains over it every day. Home ground makes all the difference in the world."

Nielsen, who won Woodbine's 1992 Canadian Oaks with Hope for a Breeze, cites his "young family" as the main reason he moved to Fort Erie five years ago.

And he is happy not only with the town, but also with the racetrack. "The surface is great, and it's a quiet place to train," said Nielsen. "This proves you can train a good horse here."

Nielsen has been training for Scott, who lives in Calgary, Alberta, for some nine years.

Their best previous runner was Cracker's Folly, who was a stakes winner of 9 of 40 starts and $378,007 and finished ninth, beaten 7 1/4 lengths, in the 2000 Atto Mile.

Cracker's Folly, a 9-year-old, raced in the Connaught Cup here May 25, finishing ninth.

"He got sick and was off two weeks, and when he came back we found a core lesion in his right tendon," said Nielsen. "That was it; he couldn't have done any more for us."

Cracker's Folly now is seeking employment as a stallion.

Less accomplished part of entry wins

Sam-Son Farm, winner of four previous editions of the Prince of Wales, and trainer Mark Frostad, whose three Wales wins included one for Sam-Son, were disappointed this year when Ford Every Stream finished 11th after breaking from the outside post in the field of 12.

"That post position killed us," said Frostad. "We tried to get up there, and it took a lot out of the horse."

But it was a different story on the home front here Sunday as the Sam-Son entry of Strike Smartly and Quiet Resolve finished one-two in the Grade 2 Chinese Cultural Centre Stakes.

Although the entry was odds-on, the outcome was unexpected.

Strike Smartly, a 5-year-old horse who was making his 14th career start, came into Sunday's 1 3/8-mile turf feature as a non-stakes winner of $248,406.

Quiet Resolve, a 7-year-old gelding who was Canada's Horse of the Year in 2000, had raced 28 times, winning five stakes, including the Grade 1 Atto Mile, and had banked $2,247,361.

Strike Smartly had finished seventh in his local seasonal bow here June 16 in the King Edward Breeders' Cup, five lengths behind runner-up Quiet Resolve.

"The only thing that surprised me was Strike Smartly's performance in his last start," said Frostad. "But he'd been off for a couple of months, and so maybe he just wasn't tight enough that day."

Strike Smartly and Quiet Resolve now seem destined to head in different directions. Strike Smartly will concentrate on going long on the turf while Quiet Resolve points for the Atto Mile here Sept. 8.

Strut the Stage works

Strut the Stage, another Sam-Son turf stalwart, worked five furlongs under jockey Todd Kabel in 1:00.60 on the turf training track here Sunday, going in company with stakes-winning 3-year-old filly Atlantic Fury.

Frostad said he has not decided upon Strut the Stage's next race.

The stable's Dancethruthedawn zipped five furlongs in 58.80 seconds under jockey Robert Landry on the training track here Sunday, working in company with stablemate Spicy Prospector (59.80), and is on target for her appearance in Sunday's Go for Wand at Saratoga.

Shepperton next up for Sambuca on Ice

Sambuca on Ice stole the show here in last Saturday's 6 1/2-furlong Bold Venture, recording his second career stakes win for owner Frank Romano and trainer Rita Schnitzler.

A 5-year-old horse who was claimed for $50,000 two summers back, Sambuca on Ice had won the six-furlong New Providence here May 19 but then finished sixth in the seven-furlong Overskate July 3.

While Schnitzler acknowledges that seven furlongs may be a tad too far for Sambuca on Ice, she is not quite ready to close the book on that distance.

"We'd given him almost six weeks off [before the Overskate]," said Schnitzler. "He was a little sharp. He even worked sharp - he worked in 46 [June 26], which he never does.

"And then we ran him and he was right up there, close, right in behind the front- runners, which is not really his best style.

"[Saturday] he was relaxed nice and easy off the pace, and he did fire down the lane when he was asked."

Sambuca on Ice's final Bold Venture tune-up came on turf, a surface on which he has never started.

"It wasn't the turf-to-dirt angle, but maybe it worked out that way," said Schnitzler. "We just thought we'd see what he worked like on it, and he didn't work spectacularly well."

The next major target for Sambuca on Ice is the $125,000 Shepperton, a 6 1/2- furlong race for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds and upward here Aug. 24.