FORT ERIE, Ont. -- In trying to pick the winner of Sunday's Prince of Wales Stakes, the big question is "How far can Alezzandro go?"
Three weeks ago, in the Queen's Plate at Woodbine, jockey Todd Kabel quickly shot what he called the "big, robust horse" to the front and stayed there for all but the last 10 yards of the 1 1/4 miles.
Running just the third race of his life, Alezzandro put on a very impressive performance.
Early in the race, Alezzandro was under pressure from Twilight Meteor. At the top of the stretch he fought off betting favorite Jiggs Coz. And in the last furlong -- as Kabel asked Alezzandro, in the words of announcer Dan Loiselle, "for everything he has" -- he just got nipped by Mike Fox under Emma-Jayne Wilson.
"There were horses kind of breathing down his neck the whole time," said trainer Kevin Attard.
"It was a great race, a thrilling race. A great high and then kind of a big letdown. He just kind of faded away in the last 70 yards," Attard said.
Except for the absent Twilight Meteor and newcomer Poachers Moon, Alezzandro -- who breaks from the outside of the six-horse field -- faces essentially the same cast of characters today.
If the black colt runs the same race has he did in the Plate, he could win, since the Prince of Wales is 110 yards shorter than the Plate. (After 1 3/1 6 miles in the Plate, he led Mike Fox by a length.)
And if Alezzandro improves off the Plate, he could win by a lot.
There seems little doubt that -- unless he has a disastrous start -- Alezzandro will be in front when the field of six passes the finish line the first time.
On paper, he is the only "speed" in the race. And that speed was sharpened at Fort Erie last Sunday, when Alezzandro worked 5 furlongs in a "bullet" (fastest workout of the day at the distance) 59 1/5 seconds after zipping the first 3 furlongs in 34 4/5 under exercise rider Melanie Giddings.
"He worked well, galloped out good and strong," Attard said. "Exactly what we were looking for. . . . It should tighten him up good enough."
Attard smiled when asked if he expects Alezzandro to set the pace again.
"I've been hoping to see him sit off just a little bit," he said. "But if they want us to have the lead again, then obviously, we'll take it and hopefully bring it home this time."
At the post position draw Wednesday, Attard said he was happy with No. 6, just to the outside of Mike Fox.
"I think Todd may have a better chance of getting him to settle, as opposed to if we drew the 1 or the 2, where we might have a horse hounding him on the outside and getting him more aggressive," Attard said.
Attard said he thinks this time Alezzandro will get early pressure from Jiggs Coz, who finished third in the Plate after getting a slow start.
"He got shut off, the first turn," Jiggs Coz's trainer Sid Attard (Kevin's uncle) said. "He [jockey David Clark] took him back. At one point he was last. . . . we're hoping for a better trip this time."
While Giddings had to urge Alezzandro a bit in the early part of Sunday's workout (clocker Billy McGirr said the work was done "handily"), Wilson sat like a statue on Mike Fox when he breezed 5 furlongs in 1:00 3/5 a few minutes later.
Although Mike Fox's workout was slower than Alezzandro's, the impressive thing about him was his powerful finish. He didn't stop running for almost the entire length of the backstretch, when an outrider on a pony helped Wilson pull him up.
"He's always a tough horse to pull up," Wilson said. "Even after the Plate, when he ran a mile and a quarter, I needed an outrider to pull him up."
Wilson said she has a lot of respect for Alezzandro.
"I think Alezzandro is a maturing horse. He's not as seasoned as some of the others," she said.
"He's got another race under his belt against some serious company and I think he'll be tough. I thought he was going to be tough in the Plate and my horse just found what he needed to find to get him there."
The major unknown in the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown is how all the horses will handle the switch from Woodbine's synthetic Polytrack to Fort Erie's dirt surface. All but one entrant is based at Woodbine (Daaher comes from Saratoga) and none has had great success on dirt tracks.
Only Daaher has won on a dirt track, when he beat maidens (non-winners) at Belmont Park.
Switching surfaces is "always a question," said Ian Black, trainer of Mike Fox.
"He [Mike Fox] worked good on it, but you really don't know until they run on it. . . . He's only ever run on the dirt [at Tampa Bay Downs] once. He stumbled at the start and didn't really have that great a chance."
The H.H. thinks the first two runners in the Plate are going to again make up the exacta in the Prince of Wales, but this time the order will be reversed.
When it comes time to go to the window, the H.H. is going to put his money on Alezzandro. He thinks the front-runner will have an easier trip Sunday and this time, he's going to hold off Mike Fox and Jiggs Coz.