07/16/2004 12:00AM

Round 2: Niigon vs. 'Gold'

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - A Bit O'Gold was favored at 6-5 when he dropped a three-quarter-length decision to Niigon in the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, the 1 1/4-mile Queen's Plate at Woodbine on June 27.

Sunday, A Bit O'Gold will have the perfect opportunity to take a measure of revenge at Fort Erie in the $500,000 Prince of Wales, where he could derail Niigon's bid to add the second jewel in the crown to his collection.

A $500,000 bonus is offered for a sweep of the Canadian Triple Crown, which concludes with the $500,000 Breeders' over 1 1/2 miles of turf at Woodbine on Aug. 8.

Sunday's card also will feature the $100,000 International Turf Cup and the $100,000 Ernie Samuel Memorial.

But the spotlight will be squarely on the Prince of Wales, which Niigon and A Bit O'Gold should turn into their personal battleground despite the presence of five others in the race.

Trainer Catherine Day Phillips watched A Bit O'Gold rally strongly under Jono Jones to leave Niigon 3 1/4 lengths back in second place in the 1 1/8-mile Plate Trial on June 6, but a similar move was not enough to mow down Niigon in the Queen's Plate.

"I think he ran a braver, and harder, race in the Plate," said Day Phillips of A Bit O'Gold, who is owned by The Two Bit Racing Stable.

"It didn't unfold to his liking, and he gave such a huge effort. He looked like he had no chance of winning at the three-eighths pole but he kept coming down the lane, digging and digging."

Niigon, owned by the Chiefswood Stable of Bob and Mark Krembil and trained by Eric Coatrieux, returned to his home base of nearby Chiefswood Farm right after his victory under Robert Landry in the Queen's Plate.

"He still looks as good as he ever looks," said Coatrieux, who added that Niigon also is improving mentally. "He's a lot more confident than he ever was."

Niigon and A Bit O'Gold were scheduled to check in to Fort Erie on Friday. Both Day Phillips and Coatrieux foresee no problems with the change in venue.

"Mentally, he's a very solid horse," said Day Phillips of A Bit O'Gold, who has made all seven of his career starts at Woodbine. "He should take it all in stride."

Niigon raced at Gulfstream and Keeneland earlier this year with disappointing results, but Coatrieux dismisses the notion that he's strictly a horse for the course at Woodbine.

"I don't think it's fair to say that yet," said Coatrieux.

When all is said and done, whether Niigon or A Bit O'Gold prevails in the Wales could come down to riding tactics.

"I'm going to ride my horse the way he wants to be ridden," said Niigon's jockey, Landry, who expects there to be some speed in the Prince of Wales. "He's a pretty uncomplicated horse."

Said Jones, rider of A Bit O'Gold: "You're going to see me a lot closer than you did last time. I want to look him in the eye."

Meanwhile, those reluctant to concede the Prince of Wales to either of the big two may take a long look at Copper Trail, who is owned by Mario Stolar and trained by Jim Day.

Copper Trail finished second to American-bred Organ Grinder in just his second start of the year in Woodbine's Victoria Park two weeks before the Queen's Plate. But he was never in contention in the Plate and finished ninth, beaten 21 1/2 lengths.

Copper Trail has come back to work well, and is the only horse in the Prince of Wales field with a race over the track.

The other returnees from the Queen's Plate are Just in Case Jimmy and His Smoothness, who finished fourth and fifth.

Just in Case Jimmy will race with blinkers for the first time.

Rounding out the field are One to Celebrate and Picadilly Bay, who figure to add some speed to the mix.