07/12/2005 11:00PM

Prince of Wales winners tip hands in Plate


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Handicapping the Prince of Wales Stakes, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown on Sunday at Fort Erie, is simply a matter of homing in on the top finishers in the first Triple Crown race, the Queen's Plate.

Ten of the last 12 Prince of Wales winners ran either first or second in the 1 1/4-mile Plate. The two exceptions are 2002, when Fort Erie-based Le Cinquieme Essai won the Prince of Wales, and 1995, when Kiridashi won the Prince of Wales after running fourth in the Queen's Plate.

This year's Plate winner, Wild Desert, should be the heavy favorite in Sunday's $500,000 Prince of Wales. The Plate runner-up, King of Jazz, is bypassing the 1 3/16-mile Wales. The filly who ran third in the Plate, Gold Strike, is also a no-go, and the surprising fourth-place finisher, Molinaro Beau, has also taken a pass. Plate favorite Dance With Ravens, who wound up seventh in that race, has been shelved for the year with an ankle injury.

Much can be gleaned from this year's Plate. The prerace comments from the connections of several contestants were revealing and very helpful when sizing up the chances of the contenders.

Trainer Reade Baker, who sent out the impressive Labatt Woodbine Oaks winner Gold Strike, stressed that he would prefer for her to have more than a two-week break between the Oaks and the Plate, which were both run on sweltering days. After putting away the other speed in the Plate, she appeared full of run at the three-eighth pole, but then sputtered in the stretch and finished third at 3-1.

"I really thought no one was going to catch her, because she was running so easy," said Jim McAleney, who rode Gold Strike. "She just got tired. Two weeks back took its toll."

The secrecy surrounding Wild Desert heading into the Plate was fascinating, and it put a bit of a damper on the result when he won off a 10-week layoff, after being bet down to 3-1.

Wild Desert was transferred from trainer Ken McPeek to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. after getting dusted in his previous start, the April 16 Arkansas Derby, but he competed for trainer Bobby Frankel in the Plate because Dutrow was serving a suspension. Wild Desert had just one major work recorded during that layoff, a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.80 on May 29 at Monmouth Park.

Juan Rodriguez, an assistant to Dutrow, said that Wild Desert was working on a regular basis leading up to the Plate.

"He's been working every five or six days at Monmouth," Rodriguez said at the Plate draw. "He's been working three-quarters or seven-eighths - we haven't worried about the time. We were working him early in the morning, right when the track opened."

The lesson is clear. When a horse returning from a layoff without any significant recent prepping is sent here by a top U.S. trainer, it is safe to assume that the horse has probably been honed for a strong showing.

Some Prince of Wales facts from the past 12 runnings:

* The Plate runner-up won six times.

* Front-runners won four times, stalkers six times, and closers got the job twice.

* The favorite won 6 of the 12 renewals.

* The only Queen's Plate winner to bypass the Prince of Wales was Awesome Again in 1997.

Add it all up and Wild Desert looks like a standout Sunday, even if he regresses a little off his big Plate effort.

The two John Ross-trained runners in the field - Out From Africa and Stephen's Gift - could round out the exotic wagers. Out From Africa should be a pace factor, and Stephen's Gift is a late-running possibility off his authoritative maiden score July 2.