Trainer Barbara Minshall has her "lucky dress" ready for Sunday's Prince of Wales Stakes at the Fort Erie Race Track. She'll need all the luck she can get to win the Fort's biggest race for the third straight year.
"It's a blue, flowery kind of dress," Minshall said of the garment she has worn to the Prince of Wales winner's circle for the last two years. "It's really not me. It's not my style but I've worn it two years, so I'll probably wear it again."
After winning the Price of Wales with two medium-priced horses (Kiridashi paid $7.20 in 1995 and Stephanotis returned $13.60 last year), Minshall tries for No. 3 with a longshot named Rabbit In A Hat.
The son of 1988 Prince of Wales winner Regal Classic all but disappeared in the Queen's Plate, where he finished a distant ninth on June 29 at Woodbine. Sunday's appearance in the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown will be only his fifth lifetime start.
"He kind of got hung up with that first wave of horses running in early part of the Plate," Minshall said. "It was a big field and he got hung up with them going pretty quick early. He didn't have much chance after that. He came up pretty empty."
But that was almost a month ago. Four of the Canadian-bred 3-year-olds who finished ahead of him in the Plate -- including Saratoga-bound Awesome Again -- are out of the race and Minshall feels her usually late-running "Rabbit" has benefited from his step up to the Plate.
"He's training well. I'm not sure how good he is. He's decent and with the kind of horses that are in there this year, he's worth a shot," she said.
The fine performances by Minshall's last three Prince of Wales entrants -- the two winners plus Mt. Sassafras, who finished third to Kiridashi -- had much to do with her winning the 1996 Sovereign Award as Canada's outstanding trainer. It came after just her second full season of running the barn after the death of her husband, Aubrey Minshall.
Mt. Sassafras, the 101-1 shot who finished fourth by less than a length in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, was voted Horse of the Year, with Kiridashi second in the balloting. Stephanotis was runner-up to Queen's Plate winner Victor Cooley as top 3-year-old male. At last count, the three had combined lifetime earnings of $2,793,284.
Significant streaks -- two good, one bad -- continued for a trio of 5-year-old geldings at Fort Erie last weekend.
Scott R., trained now by Toronto-based Catherine Day, won his fifth straight race Sunday at Fort Erie and looms the favorite for the $25,000-added Cool Reception Stakes over 1 1/2 miles of grass on Aug. 3.
With Paul Souter up, Scott R. prevailed by 3 1/4 lengths in the 1 3/8 -mile allowance race. In two races, he has already earned back the $10,000 that Day paid to claim the horse from trainer Scott Fairlie on June 19.
"He was full of himself the whole way. I knew at the three-eighths (from the wire) pole (he would win). He was coasting," Souter said.
On Monday, Frost Prince, a Cool Reception nominee, won his third straight for trainer Mike Newell and jockey Chris Griffith.
Newell said the 7-furlong turf victory against $3,200 claimers was very impressive since "The Prince" rallied between horses in deep stretch to win his first grass try in three starts. Frost Prince has four wins and two seconds in seven Fort starts this year.
It was the only win of the weekend for Griffith, who served a three-day suspension from Friday through Sunday. Griffith has appealed another three-day suspension he received for an interference infraction the previous Monday.
On Friday, Tenoclockcheckout finished second and therefore lost his 30th straight race. It was the eighth in a row for trainer Norm Bowles who notes that "there's always one in there that can beat him."
The professional maiden has four seconds and three thirds in 12 Fort starts over two years. If the grandson of Bates Motel doesn't end his horror streak this year, he won't be eligible to race anymore at the Fort, where 6-year-old maidens are ineligible.
Maybe next time
Two well-bet pacers -- Gala's Storm and Academy Hanover -- underwent horrific trips at Buffalo Raceway Saturday and should not be dismissed by handicappers because of the losses.
Gala's Storm, a 7-5 second choice driven by Jack Flanigen, got boxed in and shuffled back on the backstretch and could not get loose until the top of the stretch. The 3-year-old filly finished strongly but ran out of ground.
Academy Hanover, the 6-5 favorite driven by Jim McNeight, was getting an ideal trip behind pace-setting Winnetou until he got boxed in when the leader tired severely nearing the third quarter.
Agosti making switch pay off
Tom Agosti, the harness driver turned thoroughbred trainer, had a winner and a second at Fort Erie Monday to improve his very consistent record with the runners.
After jockey Lynn Herrmann finished first with Smart Ruckus and second with Spanish Melody, Agosti sports four wins, two seconds and three thirds from 13 starts.
Bee's Knees stings again
Bee's Knees, a 6-year-old gelding who works as a pony in the mornings for trainer Anne Cameron, returned to his winning ways Sunday with a come-from-behind victory against $6,250 claimers under Francine Villeneuve at the Fort.
The 6 1/2 -furlong dash was his first win in 10 starts since he took the 2-mile, 70-yard "Tour de Fort" last September. Bee's Knees was clocked in 1:17 4/5 , second-fastest of the season at the distance.
"He ponies every morning," Cameron said. "All he does is pony and race."
Sorry, no refunds
Bettors alive in Fort Erie's Pick 4 on Monday's rainy afternoon may have been perturbed when the 5-furlong seventh race was switched from grass to dirt after the betting had closed. But there were no refunds for those who had handicapped for grass.
The Ontario rules of racing say all bets stand if the surface of a race gets switched as long as the distance remains the same as originally advertised.
However, refunds would have been given if the original distance was changed. This happens at the Fort when grass races set for 7 furlongs or a mile are switched to the dirt oval, where such distances can not be configured.
Around the tracks
The Ontario Racing Commission's public hearing on the sale of the Fort Erie Race Track to new owners is "tentatively" scheduled for July 31 in Toronto, an ORC spokesman said Wednesday.
Buffalo Raceway's 9 1/2 -month season ends with Saturday's 7:30 p.m. card featuring New York Sire Stakes for 2-year-old colt pacers.
Batavia Downs opens its 12-week harness season July 30 at 2:30 p.m. The schedule calls for 2:30 cards on Wednesdays and Thursdays with 7:30 p.m. programs on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays. Mondays will be dark after Labor Day. Admission will be charged only on Fridays and Saturdays.
Three weekends of matinee harness racing at the Syracuse Mile at the State Fairgrounds begin Aug. 2. Post time is 1 p.m. on Aug. 2-3, 9-10, and 15-16-17. Closing day features the $250,000 Zweig Memorial for 3-year-old trotters.