06/27/2004 11:00PM

Niigon, 'Gold' head for second leg

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - A Bit O'Gold may have been outshone by Niigon, but he lost little luster when finishing a strong second in the Queen's Plate.

"He'll be back," said jockey Jono Jones of A Bit O'Gold. "We got beat, that's all. The winner had a better trip this time than he had in the Plate Trial."

Niigon ran second to A Bit O'Gold here in the June 6 Plate Trial.

Both Jones and trainer Catherine Day Phillips are looking forward to the rubber match, which should take place in the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie on July 18.

The Prince of Wales, at 1 3/16 miles, is the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, which concludes with the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on turf here Aug. 8.

Other than Will He Crow, who closed from well back to finish 7 3/4 lengths behind A Bit O'Gold as the third-place finisher, the connections of other Plate contestants were in no hurry to commit to a trip to the Fort.

"There's a nice, long stretch at Fort Erie," said Tim Regan, who trains Will He Crow for his father, Larry Regan. "Maybe the track will play a little fairer; it wasn't playing for us today. But, we're still real happy."

The allure of the Queen's Plate lies not only in its purse, but in its prestige. It's the race every Canadian owner and breeder wants to win, and many are willing to take their chances under less-than-ideal circumstances.

But once the Plate is in the books, reality takes over, sending Plate contestants off in many directions.

The connections of Just in Case Jimmy and His Smoothness, who picked up the fourth- and fifth-place checks, are not about to rule out participation in the Prince of Wales on such short notice.

But, both also remain eligible for the first-level allowance condition, and Just in Case Jimmy is Ontario-sired to boot.

"We thought the first and second horses were genuine," said Roger Attfield, who trains Just in Case Jimmy. "We just threw ourselves in there with all the rest. He ran his race."

Strike Em Hard, who finished sixth as the longest shot on the board, was heading out to the farm Monday morning, where he will spend about the next 10 days as owner-trainer Dave Cotey rotates his stock.

Still eligible for his second allowance condition, Strike Em Hard could run under those terms, but Cotey, who has not been shy about shipping to western Canada, also will be looking at his options there.

Alleged Ruler and Silver Ticket, the seventh- and eighth-place Plate finishers, are headed for turf racing with an eye toward rejoining the fray for the Breeders'.

Alleged Ruler, racing for the same connections as Niigon, and Silver Ticket, owned by Sam-Son Farm and trained by Mark Frostad, could make their next appearance in the Grade 3, $150,000 Toronto Cup Handicap over 1 1/8 miles of turf here July 17.

Trainer Jim Day, who also sent out His Smoothness, is uncertain of what the immediate future holds for Copper Trail, who finished ninth.

"I don't know what to say," said Day. "He seemed to come back fine. He didn't have a hard race; he just kind of galloped around. We're kind of scratching our heads at the moment."

Kent Ridge and Archer Fleet, the 10th- and 11th-place finishers, both have allowance conditions remaining and are Ontario-sired.

Trainer Danny Vella made no secret of his plans for Night Sky, who escaped finishing last by a nose.

"We took our shot," said Vella. "Now we'll freshen him up and go back to sprinting."

Long Pond, who brought up the rear under jockey Stewart Elliott, came out slightly the worse for wear, according to trainer Mark Casse.

"Hopefully, it's nothing serious," said Casse, who also trains Kent Ridge. "We'd still like to try to make the Breeders'. He's very good on grass."