FORT ERIE – Young trainer Jamie Attard grew up as part of a Woodbine-based clan that boasts eight trainers on its family tree. That pedigree could explain why he’s experienced beyond his 26 years.
Although he has fewer than 50 career starts as a trainer, Attard finds himself on the big stage again tonight as he sends lightly raced gelding Lions Bay to the post for the 79th edition of the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie.
Lions Bay, a sixth-place finisher in the Queen’s Plate, will attempt to capture Canada’s second jewel of its Triple Crown against nine other rivals. Post time for the Prince of Wales is 7:40 p.m. First post of the twilight card is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.
Lions Bay, with jockey Davy Moran aboard, finished the Queen’s Plate unscathed despite a shoe that bent at least 1½ inches two steps out of the gate.
“I got down and unsaddled him and I saw the shoe bent like that, but I only had enough time to take a quick look,” Attard said. “I got in my car and drove back to the barn as fast as I could and I was expecting him to be cut up everywhere. Very thankfully there were no cuts or no nicks.”
The Prince of Wales, contested at the same 1 3/16-mile distance as the Preakness, is the only stage in the Canadian Triple crown series run on dirt. The Queen’s Plate is run on Polytrack, and the final leg, the Breeders’ Stakes, is held on the turf at Woodbine. This can pose issues for horses trying to translate their current form from the synthetic surface to dirt. Lions Bay (5-1) and favorite Ami’s Holiday (9-5), the second-place finisher in the Plate, both raise that very concern.
Attard, 26, doesn’t think his gelding will have issues with Fort Erie’s dirt surface.
“Obviously he’s never run on it. You never know how he’ll handle it as the morning and the afternoon are two different things,” he said. “He’s trained over it and he’s always handled it really well. His mother won all her races on the dirt and all of his siblings the same. You know the old saying, ‘Good horses, they don’t care.’ ”
Attard realizes he’s fortunate to train entries in Canadian classic races at an early age.
“It is very surreal and it really makes me appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given,” he said. “I only got this horse in September of last year and if you told me at the time he’d be running in the Plate and the Prince of Wales I’d call you crazy. I’ve been very fortunate to have a very good education from my father in all the years I’ve worked for him. It’s been very humbling. To be so young and being able to run in these races has been incredible.”
The race includes horses with dirt form, including Peachtree Stables’ Lynx (5-1), trained by Cathal Lynch, a native of Northern Ireland who is based out of the mid-Atlantic. Lynch is winning this year at an amazing 33 percent clip and Peachtree moved Lynx to Lynch from Hall of Famer Roger Attfield when it was apparent he was struggling on synthetic surfaces.
“When Peachtree bought him they were intending to run him in the Queen’s Plate,” Lynch said. “They thought he was that kind of horse and that’s why he went to Roger at Woodbine to train and run over the track they were going to run in the series. They decided to run him on the dirt instead back to the poly so it worked out good for me.”
Lynx has successes over the dirt, receiving a decent speed figure in breaking his maiden at Parx. They ran him back three weeks later in a “salty” race in the Grade 3 Pegasus, where he wasn’t a factor, finishing over 12 lengths behind the winner, Albano, who finished second in Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational. He’s the son of Curlin, who won the 2007 Preakness, and his damsire was the 2006 Sprint Champion, so he has the pedigree to handle the Prince of Wales distance.
Lynch compared him to Curlin, a two-time Horse of the Year, as a similarly late-developing colt.
“He is a big, growing 3-year-old, a late developer, a typical Curlin,” Lynch said. “I think he’ll thrive with the extra time between races, so hopefully he runs a big race. He’s a very tactical horse. He doesn’t have to have the lead or he doesn’t have to be 20 out of it. He’ll be laying relatively close I imagine.”
Ami’s Holiday, trained all winter on the dirt at Oaklawn Park, also will have to answer the surface switch, as he’s run all of his seven career races on the Polytrack at Woodbine.
Trainer Josie Carroll is seeking her first Prince of Wales victory and will have jockey Luis Contreras in the irons. He won the 2009 Wales aboard Pender Harbour.
Local Fort Erie trainer Nick Gonzalez will send out Rhythm Blues (8-1) with Chantal Sutherland-Kruse aboard seeking his first Wales victory.
“It will be really hard to say that it would be better than winning either Queen’s Plates, but seeing that I got my first trainer’s license here 40 years ago, I think this might be one of the most special victories if we are able to get it done,” said Gonzalez.
With a fourth-straight Plate winner skipping the Prince of Wales, the border oval is due for a special night, and there will be plenty of candidates on hand to deliver the goods.
Post Time Outlook: 1- Lions Bay, 2 - Lynx, 3 - Ami’s Holiday; 4 - Matador
Wet Track Outlook: 1 - Lynx, 2 - Ami’s Holiday, 3 - Matador
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.