FORT ERIE – It’s the biggest horse race held within shouting distance of downtown Buffalo.
In fact it’s less than 2 miles away from U.S. Customs at the Peace Bridge.
Fort Erie’s signature horse race, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes, will be held for the 82nd time on Tuesday evening during a twilight card at the border oval.
With a half million dollar purse on the line, a field of seven including four that ran in the Queen’s Plate, will attempt to secure the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown.
The 1 3/16-mile race will run at approximately 7:45 p.m., the eighth on a nine-race card. First post at Fort Erie to kick off the twilight card is at 4:20 p.m.
The Plate winner Holy Helena is skipping the race for bigger and better things down the Thruway at Saratoga. She’ll point to the Grade 1 Alabama to be run on Aug. 19 at the Spa. The filly is the fifth non-starter in the second leg in the last seven years, but the first in the last three years. Sir Dudley Digges finished second in 2016 and Shaman Ghost was second in 2015.
Triple Crown winner Wando was the last Plate winner to capture the second leg at Fort Erie in 2003. As the American Triple Crown drought of 37 years ended two years ago with American Pharoah, Canada has a drought of its own that has reached 14 years.
All of the horses are shipping in from Woodbine with little dirt experience, since the Toronto track has a Tapeta synthetic surface. That makes handicapping the race even tougher with the lack of dirt experience.
The morning line favorite is Tiz a Slam (8-5) who finished a solid second in the Plate. Trainer Roger Attfield is looking for his sixth Prince of Wales, which would be one shy of the record. Attfield’s first came way back in 1976 with Norcliffe, his last coming in 2005 with Ablo.
The trainer who has been inducted in both the Canadian and U.S. Hall of Fame is hoping his colt will take to the dirt at Fort Erie. He’s a son of Tiznow, a two-time Breeder’s Cup Classic winner on the dirt, out of Grand Slam mare. He should transition well to the dirt and has a good workout on the Woodbine dirt training track posted on July 19.
He was a well beaten second in the Plate, but jockey Eurico Rosa da Silva, who will ride him in the Wales, was beaming after his performance. “I could not be more happy,” said da Silva. “It was a quality race, a very competitive race, and I finished second. He started getting bright for me in the last quarter mile,” said da Silva.
Tiz a Slam did run one race on dirt at Tampa, where he finished a deceiving fifth, only a length-and-a-half behind the winner.
The second choice on the morning line is State of Honor (5-2), one of only three horses who have a start on dirt in the field. He was on the Derby trail and finished 19th in the Run for the Roses after leading early. Distance questions abound after his fading performance in the Plate, but trainer Mark Casse insists he can carry further on dirt.
Reached by The News from the backside at Saratoga, he admitted that “Distance is a concern, but he can run farther on dirt,” Casse relayed via text message. While there isn’t a whole lot of speed in the race, betting on the son of To Honor and Serve to stay the 9-1/2 furlongs is a big gamble.
Lightly raced Aurora Way (6-1) is trying lasix for the first time, a solid handicapping angle that can benefit a young horse. He broke his maiden impressively at Woodbine and was the buzz horse before the Plate, where he finished ninth in just his second career race.
He sports a bullet workout on July 17 in preparation for the middle jewel and the experience gained in the Plate should benefit the Giant’s Causeway colt that should have no issues with the distance. Both Aurora Way and Tiz a Slam are both Chiefswood Stables homebreds.
A newcomer to the Triple Crown trail is Woodbridge (7-2), who ran in a turf stake on the Plate undercard finishing third behind an impressive duo. Mike Keough is the last to train a Triple Crown winner and will look to win his second Prince of Wales with the son of Langfuhr. David Moran will ride Woodbridge for the third straight time.
The gelding wintered in Aiken, S.C., after breaking his maiden in November, where he trained on dirt, Keough thinks he has the goods to excel on dirt.
“We took him to South Carolina over the winter where he trained great on the dirt surface on the Aiken training track,” said Keogh. “He continued to train really well all winter long. While I think he's mainly a turf horse, I think he could be even better on dirt.”
Keough tried him on the Woodbine synthetic track twice in stakes company where he didn't run very well. Based on those efforts, he passed on the Plate and pointed Woodbridge towards the Prince of Wales after some solid training sessions on the Woodbine dirt training track. He figures to be part of the mix on Tuesday night.
A longshot to be considered underneath in the exotics is Cool Catomine (12-1), who looks to be improving for trainer John Ross. The 3-year-old son of Spring At Last broke his maiden in his last and will enter deeper waters at the Fort.
Luis Contreras will be in the irons on Cool Catomine, looking for his third Wales riding victory.
The Post Time selection is with the class of the race and the legendary trainer Attfield, who should secure his sixth Prince of Wales with the favorite Tiz a Slam. It would be the 23rd Canadian Triple Crown race victory should he win.
The value in this race will be placing the right horses underneath the favorite, so we’ll try a trifecta keying Tiz a Slam over Aurora Way, Woodbridge and Cool Catomine.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Tiz a Slam; 2 – Aurora Way; 3 – Woodbridge; and 4 – Cool Catomine
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.