07/12/2007 11:00PM

Prince of Wales? Here's the dirt

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - The $500,000 Prince of Wales has become the wild card in the Triple Crown series for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

The 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate at Woodbine was run over Polytrack for the first time, so Sunday's 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales will be the only dirt race in the series, which concludes with the $500,000 Breeders' over 1 1/2 miles of turf at Woodbine on Aug.o5.

The only horses in the Prince of Wales who have ever raced on dirt are Mike Fox, upset winner of the Queen's Plate at 15-1; Daaher, who finished fourth as the surprising second choice; and Marchfield, who ran sixth as the third choice in the betting.

And the edge could go to Daaher, who was making just his third start and traveling around two turns for the first time after shipping up from Saratoga for the Queen's Plate.

Daaher broke poorly and finished eighth in his debut over six furlongs on Keeneland's Polytrack in April. In his next outing, a one-turn 1o1/16-mile maiden special on Belmont Park's main track, Daaher stalked the pace en route to a smart score.

In the Queen's Plate, Daaher turned in an uneven effort yet was beaten only 4 1/4 lengths.

Kiaran McLaughlin trains Daaher but was under suspension when entries for the Prince of Wales were taken on Wednesday, so assistant trainer Art Magnuson will be the trainer of record.

McLaughlin was at his Belmont base on Thursday, and is optimistic about Daaher's chances in the Prince of Wales.

"The competition is stiff, but we think that going back to the dirt is a definite plus," he said. "Hopefully, we can reverse the form on the dirt."

McLaughlin believes Daaher is still a work in progress.

"We think the races have helped," he said. "He's a little green. In each start, he's getting better and better."

New York-based rider Mike Luzzi will ride Daaher for the first time on Sunday.

Mike Fox finished fourth after a poor start in his only race on dirt, which came at Tampa Bay Downs this winter. Since moving into trainer Ian Black's barn this spring, Mike Fox has improved steadily, culminating in his game half-length victory in the Plate.

"I think he's as good and might even be a little better coming into this race," said Black. "He seems to be a little more relaxed in his training."

Mike Fox shipped down from Woodbine and breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60 under regular rider Emma-Jayne Wilson at Fort Erie last Sunday.

"It's going to be important who handles the track the best," said Black. "But almost a bigger thing in this race is the pace, or lack of it."

Alezzandro led almost every step of the way in the Queen's Plate before finishing second under Todd Kabel and is a threat to take them all the way here, under Kabel again.

"That was just his third start," said trainer Kevin Attard. "He's a little more seasoned now."

Attard moved Alezzandro to Fort Erie on July 6, and the colt worked five furlongs in a sharp 59.20 seconds last Sunday.

"He's settled in great," said Attard. "He's kind of a claustrophobic horse, and wasn't handling the training track at Woodbine well.

"He's more relaxed on the wide-open, spacious track here. He's happier. He's showing a little more spunk than he normally does. "

Jiggs Coz, beaten 1 3/4 lengths when third as the 6-5 choice in the Queen's Plate under regular rider David Clark, may have been compromised by the onset of a minor ligament strain which subsequently has been treated.

"He never ran his race and he had an excuse," said Attard. "He was shut off on the first turn."

Attard believes that incident prevented Jiggs Coz from staying in closer attendance to the front-running Alezzandro.

"In the Plate Trial, he was right beside him," said Attard.

Jiggs Coz stalked the front-running Alezzandro in the 1 1/8-mile Trial before going on to a 3 1/4-length victory.

"That's what Clark wanted to do in the Queen's Plate," Attard said.

Marchfield finished second the first time he ran on dirt, in a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream this winter, and then finished ninth on dirt there at 1o1/8 miles, a race in which trainer Mark Casse said the colt bled.

Casse's main concern in the Prince of Wales is the fact that Marchfield turned in such an indifferent effort in the Queen's Plate.

"It's hard to feel real confident, because I don't really have a good explanation for his lackluster run in the Plate," said Casse.

Poachers Moon comes into the Prince of Wales off a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight win at Woodbine on June 22 under regular rider Chantal Sutherland.

Roger Attfield, who trains Poachers Moon, will be looking for his sixth Prince of Wales victory.