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SEVEN CONTEST PRINCE OF WALES

Despite the unusual absence of the Queen's Plate winner and the lack of nationally televised hype, the largest crowd of the season is expected to see the second jewel of Canada's Triple Crown today when Fort Erie Race Track hosts its marquee event, the 62nd running of the Prince of Wales Stakes.

The seven-horse race for Canadian-foaled 3-year-olds goes as the ninth of 10 races on a card that begins at 1:10 p.m. Post time for the $196,100 main event is 5:07 p.m. There is no TV broadcast.

Cryptocloser, distant runner-up to Awesome Again in the June 29 Plate at Woodbine, is expected to be the heavy favorite under jockey Willie Martinez. A runaway winner of the Plate Trial, Cryptocloser was the Plate favorite, but ran into traffic on the far turn and finished 3 1/2 lengths behind.

"I was surprised he got back up for second, quite frankly," said trainer Mark Frostad, who believes two incidents on the far turn cost Cryptocloser five or six lengths.

"He got bumped around a little bit in there, but he came out all right," Frostad said of the gelding, who is owned by Earle Mack of New York City and William Sorokolit Jr. of Toronto. Mack has owned two previous Prince of Wales winners -- Peteski (1993) and Bruce's Mill (1994). The latter was trained by Frostad.

This will be the first time since 1984 that the Plate winner has skipped the Prince of Wales. California-based Awesome Again, owned by Canadian Frank Stronach, has skipped the Prince of Wales to attempt the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga next Sunday. The race is a traditional prep for the $1 million Travers Stakes.Cryptocloser, the only stakes winner in the field, has won three races in 17 starts and earned $214,619. After a lackluster 2-year-old season under previous management, he has been in the money for eight of his nine starts as a 3-year-old.

The favorite's main challenge is expected to be Maryland-based Sovereign Storm. Sent off at 50-1 in the Plate, he charged from far back to finish a nose behind Cryptocloser in the Plate under Steve Hamilton.

"We weren't completely surprised," by his fine Plate performance, said Jesse Campitelli, wife and assistant to trainer Francis P. Campitelli.

"We knew there was going to be a speed duel and that was going to be to his advantage. But yes, it was a pleasant surprise," she said.

She said Sovereign Storm seemed settled into a career in the U.S. until Woodbine recruiters called after he won an allowance race at Pimlico on June 7.

"They said you'd be crazy if you wouldn't come up and try because the Canadian breds are . . . looking like they don't want to go the distance this year," she said.

Trainer Barbara Minshall, who has won the last two Prince of Wales with Kiridashi and Stephaotis, tries for a hat trick with Rabbit in a Hat, who was ninth in the Plate.

Preparations for the Fort's biggest day have been clouded by reports that the Ontario Jockey Club's scheduled sale of the track to a group of American and Canadian owners has been scuttled and that the track would close following the Prince of Wales.

In a memo to all Fort Erie horse people, general manager Mike Robitaille said the report is, "without any basis of fact whatsoever".

On Saturday, the OJC said it alerted "all departments" that the transfer of ownership -- which is subject to a public hearing by the Ontario Racing Commission on Thursday -- may take place on either Aug. 1 or Aug. 5.

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