05/22/2002 11:00PM

Prince of Wales gets national television coverage


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Fort Erie's signature race, the Prince of Wales Stakes, will be televised nationally in Canada this year.

The July 21 race hasn't had such exposure since the Ontario Jockey Club, which is now known as the Woodbine Entertainment Group, reached an agreement with CTV Sports Group in 1998. The purpose of the accord was to get a bigger presence on television for Canadian horse racing because its visibility was shrinking on the CBC network.

Pre-slots Fort Erie, which was struggling at the time, didn't come on board as Woodbine built a new, network-quality technical and production facility on site. As part of the deal, Woodbine's expanded broadcast department supplied the horse-content programming shown on Sportsnet's regional and national broadcasts.

"We've been broadcasting major Woodbine races for four years now. We talked to Fort Erie in the past," said David Naylor, vice-president of broadcasting for Woodbine Entertainment Group. "They just said that they weren't that interested. This year Fort Erie, along with the horsemen's group, is going to find some money to kick into the production.

"So we'll bring the mobile down here and we will have a true Triple Crown on Sportsnet. The Prince of Wales was an important component of the three races, being the middle of the triple, but it sort of got lost in the last few years."

The hour-long program will begin at 4 p.m. Eastern. The race, which had its purse hiked from $350,000 to $500,000 is set to go off at 4:40 p.m.

Tuesday a big betting day

Business continues to boom at the Fort. Tuesdays were added to the schedule this week, and the day produced a gain of almost 25 percent in the betting handle over the corresponding day last year - from $758,567 to $946,567.

"It pretty well mirrored our season so far," said mutuels and simulcasting manager Chad Gates. "After 13 days of racing, wagering from U.S. sites is up 34 percent and in Canada 22 percent."

New routine pays off

Trainer David Schmidt tried something different this year and early results indicate that it paid off.

"Basically, I took the winter off and did some vacationing in Florida. For six or seven years I had worked during the winters," said Schmidt. "This year I didn't start training till the first Monday in February."

He got his horses in shape at a farm in nearby Fonthill that has a track in the back and was aided by a mild winter.

Going into Saturday's action Schmidt has scored three wins from 12 starts at the Fort, including two wins from speedy Soft Machine. Schmidt has also saddled a winner at Woodbine.

The star of Schmidt's barn is the crack sprinter J and B's Nu Image. Schmidt was hoping to run her this Tuesday but backed off when she coughed a little.

"When good horses aren't perfect you don't want to take any chances," he said. "I'll probably run her in a stakes first time out. Races for her are few and far between. She hasn't run since November when she was second twice for $80,000."