08/31/2001 11:00PM

Winless pair heads Puss N Boots


FORT ERIE, Ont. - Two runners who are winless this year will likely be the favorites in the Puss N Boots, one of two stakes on Fort Erie's Labor Day program.

A field of 12, plus two also eligibles, is entered for the $50,000 Puss N Boots, which will be run at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Northernprospector who has lifetime earnings of $533,411 has come up a neck short in two of his three starts this year, the latest being the 1 1/16-mile Cool Reception Stakes on Aug. 13. He started the year with a sixth-place finish in a sprint.

Malcoha, winner of the 1998 Puss N Boots, was a neck short of victory in the seven-furlong Peninsula Stakes on Aug. 20. A

9-year-old gelding, he was out of the money in his other two 2001 starts, finishing behind Northernprospector in both.

Malcoha's trainer, Dan Poliziani, blames one of the losses on the ride given his horse. "Malcoha was up with the lead early when we ran against him [Northernprospector]. He doesn't want to run that way," he said. "He wants to stay off the pace and swing outside and go and get them. Francine [Villeneuve] rode him perfectly in the Peninsula. She just missed."

The race was named after Puss N Boots, a gifted but unpredictable horse, trained by the late Frank Merrill Jr., who was on his way to what appeared to be a certain stakes victory over the grass course years ago, when he suddenly veered through an opening in the hedge and went straight into one of the infield lakes. His handlers, fully clothed, dived in to retrieve him. A rowboat was also used in the recovery.

In recent years, it has become a tradition that a member of the connections that win the Puss N Boots jumps into the same lake. Last year, jockey Cory Clark took the plunge. She rode the winner, Swabby.

The other feature on Monday is the Miss Moneypenny Stakes, the female version of the Puss N Boots Stakes. The likely favorites in the full field of 12 are Signs of Glory and Ellesmere.

Signs of Glory, trained by Ann Cameron, has won her last three races, including one at Woodbine. Signs of Glory blossomed when Cameron started to race the filly from the farm.

"Her whole persona changed when we took her from the track," said Cameron. "She didn't seem to want to be there. She was depressed at the track. She likes to be around people. And now when she comes to the track she's all business."

Ellesmere, trained by Phil England, has two impressive grass wins this year.