03/20/2003 1:00AM

Prince of Wales heart of new festival


TORONTO, Ontario - The $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, anchors a 21-race stakes schedule worth a record $2,015,000 at Fort Erie this year.

The Prince of Wales will be run Sunday, July 20, along with its usual supporting features, the Benburb and the Border Cup.

Three existing stakes, highlighted by the $125,000 Rainbow Connection, have been grouped together on the Saturday, July 19 program.

"We're going to have a Prince of Wales festival weekend," said Herb McGirr, director of racing for Fort Erie.

The other major date on the calendar here is July 1 when the $250,000 Labatt Bison City, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Tiara, will be run along with the Centre Stage Anne and Parnitha.

Meanwhile, the most significant change on the schedule involves the elimination of the "in-house" stakes program, which required entrants to have made a minimum of two starts at the meeting. Four of the former "in-house" stakes - the Lauries Dancer, Cool Reception, Golden Horseshoe, and Peninsula - now will be open to all Canadian-breds.

"We think we would certainly have better fields, by opening up all these races," said McGirr.

Other changes will see the Harry A. Hindmarsh and Harry J. Addison, sales stakes sponsored by the Ontario division of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society, moved from late September to late June.

The Hindmarsh and Addison, along with the two divisions of the Juvenile sales stakes that will be run in September, have had their purses upped from $60,000 to $75,000.

The Bridgeburg, run in October last year, has been moved to June 15 and will be part of a stakes doubleheader that includes the Adena Springs Matchmaker.

The 117-day Fort Erie meeting runs from April 26 through Nov. 11, with racing Saturdays through Tuesdays, plus Friday, July 4.