04/30/2008 11:00PM

Shakeup atop riders' list as new meet opens

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Fort Erie begins an 80-day meeting Saturday, the track's 111th season of racing.

After the opening two-day weekend, racing will be conducted primarily on Sundays through Tuesdays with the exception of Saturday racing on July 19, Aug. 30, and closing weekend, Oct. 25. Eight races per day will normally be carded.

The $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel in Canada's Triple Crown, is the highlight of the meet and is scheduled for July 13. The Prince of Wales will be supported by two $50,000 turf stakes for Canadian-breds, the Ernie Samuel Memorial and the Daryl Wells Sr. Memorial.

The only other stakes race of the meeting is the $125,000 Rainbow Connection for Ontario-sired fillies and mares on Aug. 17.

Eight Cup races, all with purses of $27,500 and restricted conditions, are scheduled from mid-July.

The two mile and 70-yard Cheldon Tour de Fort Cup on closing day, Tuesday, Oct. 28, will complete the Cup race schedule.

The jockey colony has lost its leading rider of the past two years, Robbie King Jr. King retired from riding after being elected to the post of national secretary/manager of the Jockey's Benefit Association of Canada.

Another top rider, Jack Lauzon, has also retired and is now a jockey agent at Woodbine.

Chad Beckon and Cory Clark are expected to be front and center when it comes to leading rider for the upcoming meet, since they were knocking on that door in the past.

Tom Gostlin, the Fort's racing secretary, had no problem in filling the opening-day card, and he is optimistic regarding the upcoming season.

"We are building towards 800 horses on the grounds and the cooperative and competitive nature of our horsemen at the entry box definitely helps," Gostlin said.

There are a number of 2-year-olds on the grounds and Gostlin intends to be carding races for them in July.

"We would like to have these youngsters begin their careers with a one-turn sprint, rather than the two-furlong dashes that some tracks prefer," said Gostlin. "It is an important learning stage and good, solid grounding, for those debut races are often the key to a promising future."