06/17/2001 11:00PM

Wales chock full of contenders

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LONDON - The Prince of Wales's Stakes, upgraded to Group 1 status prior to Dubai Millennium's overpowering victory last year, will have no trouble living up to its billing as the premier event at Royal Ascot for the second time in succession.

But figuring the winner from a high-class, contentious field of older horses going 1 1/4 miles on the second day of the Royal Meeting will prove somewhat more difficult for bettors than deciding which champagne to drink at lunch with their smoked salmon, strawberries, and cream.

Any one of five horses, four of them Group 1 winners, would be no surprise in the Prince of Wales. Neither would Hightori, the dangerous French invader who will find the combination of the distance and the good to firm ground to his liking.

Although the Andre Fabre-trained Hightori will be up against Fantastic Light, Kalanisi, Observatory, and Endless Hall, he may be good enough to take the honors with regular rider Olivier Peslier in the saddle.

An honest third in the Dubai World Cup, Hightori returned to Longchamp with a sharp effort in the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan in which he was beaten a short head by Observatory going 1 1/8 miles, 55 yards.

The additional distance should work to his advantage, but may be a bit too long for the John Gosden-trained Observatory, whose main claim to fame is a victory over Giant's Causeway in the one-mile Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Both Fantastic Light and Kalanisi are coming out of the 1 1/4-mile Tattersalls Gold Cup in which the 5-year-old Fantastic Light beat Kalanisi, last year's Breeders' Cup Turf winner, into third place. Kalanisi should certainly improve off that effort, but perhaps not quite as much as he will need to take the measure of Hightori, while Fantastic Light, a danger on his best day, does not always run up to his abilities.

However, if any of the leading contenders think that they are in a four-way chess match, they run the risk of falling victim to Endless Hall.

Though only fourth behind Stay Gold and Fantastic Light in the Dubai Sheema Classic, the 5-year-old Endless Hall was a winner over Jim and Tonic in the 1 1/4-mile Singapore Airlines International Cup last month. Like Hightori, he is a 10-furlong specialist who likes firm going.

So while last year's Prince of Wales's was a crowning of sorts for Dubai Millennium, this year's renewal could see a changing of the guard in the middle-distance ranks as Hightori and Endless Hall assert themselves at the expense of Kalanisi and Fantastic Light.

The seven-furlong Group 3 Jersey Stakes features a meeting of two St. James's Palace Stakes dropouts in Mozart and West Order. Mozart's two-length second to Black Minnaloushe in the Irish 2000 Guineas suggested that he would gain from a drop back in distance, so he is the selection over recent Epsom listed race winner Jentzen.

David Loder, the Newmarket-based conditioner of Godolphin's European juveniles, has a strong hand in the five-furlong, Group 3 Queen Mary Stakes for young fillies. The winner could be his Latin Lynx, while the listed seven-furlong Chesham Stakes has the look of an Aidan O'Brien special in the $1 million yearling Monarchoftheglen.