07/06/2004 11:00PM

Prince of Wales looks like Plate exacta box


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Conventional wisdom when handicapping the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, is to concentrate on the protagonists in the first race of the series, the Queen's Plate.

"If you weren't first or second in the Queen's Plate, you don't have much of a shot of winning the Prince of Wales," said Bob Summers, the longtime racing writer for the Buffalo News.

The race's recent history reveals that Summers isn't far off the mark. Nine of the last 11 Prince of Wales winners were either first or second in the 1 1/4-mile Plate. The exceptions were the 2002 winner, Le Cinquieme Essai, who didn't run in the Plate, and Kiridashi, who was coming off a fourth-place finish in the 1995 Plate.

This year's renewal of the 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales, which will be run July 18, looks like a two-horse race between the Plate winner, Niigon, and the runner-up, A Bit O'Gold. They finished just three-quarters of a length apart in the Plate, and there was nearly an eight-length gap back to the third runner, Will He Crow, who is also expected to run back in the Wales.

"It looks like it's going to be a match race, but it might be a good two-horse race," Summers said. "I don't think the Plate was a definitive test between A Bit O'Gold and Niigon."

Summers cited jockey strategy, the size of the 13-horse field, and the traffic going into the first turn as factors that '"might have played a part in A Bit O'Gold getting beat."

As for the Prince of Wales, said Summers, "I'll probably bet A Bit O'Gold in the race, because he should be a better price. The Plate winner is almost automatically the favorite in the Prince of Wales."

Eye of the Sphynx was second to Touchnow as the heavy favorite in last Sunday's Labatt Bison City Stakes, and Summers pointed out that Fort Erie has often been the graveyard for favorites in major races. He recalled Alydeed losing the 1992 Wales at 1-10 over a sloppy track to Benburb, who had been a distant third in the Plate.

"Dance Smartly got beat here as a 2-year-old," Summers said. "For whatever reason, some champions didn't have their best day at Fort Erie. It could have been because of the track surface or the experience of shipping down here on a hot day."

Summers said Alydeed had a dull workout at Fort Erie leading up to the Wales, but he doesn't necessarily believe that it is important to have a work over the track before the race.

Niigon is scheduled to work at his owner's farm, Chiefswood, this week. It won't be deemed an official workout, because it will not have taken place over a recognized track.

Summers noted that A Bit O'Gold's trainer, Catherine Day Phillips, won the two supporting stakes on the 2003 Prince of Wales card. She also finished second in the 2002 Wales with Bravely, who missed the Plate because of an illness.

"You have to give her points" for those results, Summers said, noting that Day Phillips has far more experience at Fort Erie than Niigon's trainer, Eric Coatrieux.

Woodbine's main track was biased towards outside runners on Plate Day, which benefited the first three finishers. Horses who saved ground most of the way in the Plate were Alleged Ruler (who finished seventh) and Long Pond (13th). Neither of them was kept eligible to the Wales.

Churchill Downs-based Colonial Reign is possible for the Wales, as is Castle Heights, who was recently third in a maiden special on the grass at Belmont.

Colonial Reign was unplaced in both of his 2-year-old starts on the dirt, but he has seemingly found his niche this year on the grass. He won his maiden on the turf at Churchill, where he was recently a close second in a turf allowance.

Le Cinquieme Essai was coming off a decisive allowance triumph on the grass at Woodbine when he captured the 2002 Wales, which is run on the main track.