07/18/2003 12:00AM

Wando a sure thing? Not so fast

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Wando can't lose.

That statement is not being endorsed here.

It's merely the echo of an opinion that is widely held heading into the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie Sunday.

Granted, Wando shouldn't lose, and will be bet accordingly.

But, it also may be worth remembering that this renewal of the Prince of Wales will mark the 11th anniversary of the biggest upset in the race's modern history, which back dates to 1988 when the fixture was switched from turf to dirt and the distance shortened to the current 1 3/16 miles.

Alydeed entered the 1992 Prince of Wales off an 11 1/2-length score in the Queen's Plate, in which he went off at 1-10.

Earlier that season, Alydeed had won the Derby Trial and finished second in the Preakness prior to waltzing through Woodbine's Marine and Plate Trial, both at odds of 1-20.

So it was certainly no surprise that Alydeed virtually was being conceded victory in the Prince of Wales, where he again went off at the minimum 1-20.

Roger Attfield, who trained Alydeed for the Kinghaven Farm of David Willmot and his father, the late Bud Willmot, admits that he considered success in the Prince of Wales to be a foregone conclusion up until the night before the race.

"I was staying in Niagara-on-the-Lake, with my parents, and I lay awake all night, listening to the rain teeming down," Attfield said.

"The thing with him is he couldn't stand up if you spat on the ground. He wouldn't even train on an off track. I never wanted to run him on one."

Attfield and the Willmots agonized over the situation, and even considered scratching Alydeed. In the end, however, there was no escaping the fact that the Prince of Wales was the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown and there was little choice but to run despite the muddy going.

"I thought he was superior enough to overcome it anyway," Attfield said. "So, I took the chance. At the eighth pole, I knew it was wrong."

It was at that point Alydeed was engaged by Benburb, who went on to win by a half-length at 24-1. Benburb had finished third, beaten 12 1/4 lengths in the Plate, and was proven on an off track.

"That's one advantage, when you have a horse who can handle any type of going," Attfield said.

Phil England, who trained Benburb during his days as private conditioner for Knob Hill Stable, remembers going to Fort Erie without much hope of knocking off the favorite.

"He'd had a splint problem going into the Plate," England said. "I thought he had a good shot of being second [in the Wales]."

England also points out that Benburb definitely was not merely a mudlark or a one-hit wonder, as he later trounced Alydeed on a fast track in that fall's Molson Export Million at Woodbine and was voted Canada's Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old.

Trainer Mike Keogh, who spent more than seven years as Attfield's assistant, was taking care of the stable's business at Woodbine when Alydeed lost here.

Now, as the conditioner of Wando, Keogh isn't certain how an off track would affect his chances.

Wando has never raced on off going, at least officially, although Keogh questions the "fast" designation for last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Arlington Park.

That race also was the lone dull effort of Wando's career, as he finished a distant 12th in the field of 13. But, the result was mainly a function of his 12 post, which was an insurmountable obstacle at the 1 1/8-mile layout.

There is the possibility of rain in the Fort Erie forecast, and Keogh would just as soon not see Wando facing the unknown here Sunday.

The known, after all, can be daunting enough, as Keogh discovered during his last Prince of Wales venture in 1999.

Woodcarver had come to Fort Erie that year off a five-length victory as the 7-2 second choice in the Queen's Plate. The runner-up there was the filly Gandria, at 67-1.

"He was so impressive in the Plate that I fully expected him to win," said Keogh.

But Woodcarver finished second to Gandria as the 3-5 choice.

"This track's a little funny; they can kind of reel you in a little bit down the lane sometimes," he said. "I knew Gandria was the one to beat, and she turned out to be a nice filly."

Gandria, like Benburb, went on to be voted to be champion of her division that year.