Prince of Wales Stakes in jeopardy

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:39 PM ET

Are you a fan of the Canadian Triple Crown as it currently exists? You might want to enjoy it while it lasts.

The second jewel, to be raced this weekend at Fort Erie Racetrack on Sunday, has always scored big on charm. A nice break from the bustle of Woodbine, Fort Erie on a hot summer afternoon is an enjoyable place to watch and play the ponies and Prince of Wales Stakes day is the highlight of the meet.

But how much longer can the historic track remain viable?

Fort Erie, which on Sunday will play host to the middle jewel of the Crown, has been paddling hard to stay afloat for years now.

Competition from too many casinos in the area is just one of the factors that has kept the future of the picturesque border oval in some peril.

“It’s been tough, it really has,” the track’s chief operating officer, Rick Cowan, said on Thursday. “The economy here is tough, the slots aren’t performing to the level we would like. Every day is a challenge.”

Midway through a three-year operating deal with the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium, a group that essentially rescued the track from its previous owner, Nordic Gaming, the border oval needs to pick up the pace before the end of the 2012 meet or face more uncertainty.

The partnership, which includes the Fort Erie Economic Development and Tourism Corp., the Town of Fort Erie and the Ontario Horse Benevolent Protection Agency, has all the right intentions, but can’t survive if the track doesn’t become profitable.

So far, that hasn’t happened for the 114-year-old track.

Profits from slot machines being the lifeblood of most successful racing operations these days, Fort Erie has been hurt by a reduction from 1,200 to 400 of the one-armed bandits and even those remaining haven’t attracted enough action.

Cowan says wagering on the live product is down 10% over last year, a trend that will need to reverse soon.

“We have a short leash here,” Cowan said. “We have to generate numbers that are going to be acceptable to the powers that be to consider an extension.

“We’re doing what we can to exhaust the opportunities out there but we’re still optimistic we will be able to keep things going.”

WHAT'S UP IN THE WALES?

This Sunday’s 76th running of the Wales won’t exactly enhance the storied history of the race, though it should be a competitive event with the big-day feel it always brings.

A compact field of seven will chase the $500,000 purse and for the first time since Awesome Again took a pass in 1997, the Queen’s Plate champion won’t be on hand.

Inglorious, who won the opening jewel at Woodbine last month, is off to what her connections feel will be greener pastures for her next start — namely the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga Racetrack on Aug. 20.

Plate runner-up Hippolytus, who was a 61-1 shot in the opening jewel, has been made the 2-1 favourite for trainer Mark Casse while Pender Harbour, third in the Plate for Mike De Paulo, is the 3-1 second choice.

KEEPING PACE

As expected, a Canadian colt is favoured for Saturday’s $1 million Meadowlands Pace in East Rutherford, N.J. It’s just not the one we expected.

Big Jim, last year’s champion two-year-old but a disappointment at times this season, bounced back in a big way last Saturday to win one of two Pace eliminations. That effort has earned him the 2-1 favourite status in the 10-horse final on a track Big Jim is now 3-for-3 in 2011.

“I think we’ll just stay here the rest of the summer,” trainer James (Friday) Dean joked.

The break didn’t work out so well for the other big Canadian contender, North America Cup champ Up The Credit, who finished eighth in his elimination and didn’t advance. Driver Jody Jamieson got caught towards the back and when the pace turned lazy, couldn’t pass enough horses in the stretch.

Big Jim, meanwhile, will attempt to become the first champion two-year-old to capture the Pace since the great Presidential Ball did so in 1993. Woodbine/Mohawk regular driver Phil Hudon will also be looking for the biggest win of his career.

“I’m pumped about it,” Hudon said. “I’ve watched all the big guys race in it and win it, the great horses, and it’s just exciting to be a part of it.”

FINISH LINES

The Meadowlands Pace didn’t quite work out for him, but Jamieson had a big night back at home on Tuesday, winning six times on Mohawk’s 11-race program ... Jamieson did pick up a mount for the Meadowlands Pace final — aboard 15-1 shot Westward Ho ... See You At Peelers, the incredible pacing filly who recently won the Fan Hanover Stakes at Mohawk has pushed her winning streak to 19 races leading some to refer to her as harness racing’s Zenyatta after the brilliant champion thoroughbred filly. Trainer Jimmy Takter says he is still planning for See You at Peelers to race against the boys in the Little Brown Jug this September.

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