A Bit O'Gold Glitters in Muddy Prince of Wales

There won't be a Canadian triple crown winner in 2004, but a good rivalry has emerged in its absence after A Bit O'Gold turned the tables on Queen's Plate winner Niigon by a head in the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes on sloppy going at Fort Erie Sunday.

A year after Wando waltzed past his 3-year-old foes in the three-race series for Canadian breds, it has been hard to separate the two main contenders in this year's first two legs. The "rubber match" is in the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes at 1 1/2 miles at Woodbine Aug. 8. Niigon was bidding to become the eighth winner of the Canadian triple crown.

A Bit O'Gold, ridden by Jono Jones for owner The Two Bit Racing Stable and trainer Catherine Day Phillips, overcame Niigon's three-length advantage forged at the top of the stretch to win. They were 15 1/4 lengths ahead of third-place finisher His Smoothness in a final time of 1:57 3/5 for the 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales. A Bit O'Gold was a slight 11-10 choice over Niigon, sent off at odds of 6-5.

``When Niigon opened up at the three-eighths pole I thought it was game over,'' Day Phillips said. ``But this horse has a tremendous heart.''

She said she anticipates running A Bit O'Gold in the breeders' Stakes if he recovers fully from the Prince of Wales.

Niigon, who won the Plate by three-quarters of a length with Robert Landry in the irons, led Sunday through a contested half-mile of :47 3/5 and opened up by 2 1/2 lengths after six furlongs in 1:12 2/5. A Bit O'Gold, never far from the leaders while stalking from off the rail, tracked Niigon through the far turn and closed in the stretch to reach even terms in the final sixteenth of mile. A Bit O'Gold was just up at the wire.

A Bit O'Gold actually owns a series edge over Niigon, having beaten him by 3 1/4 lengths in the Plate Trail at Woodbine June 6. A Bit O'Gold has won five of eight career starts with earnings of $863,199. Besides the Plate Trial, he also won the Coronation Futurity in his third start in November.

Beclawat Stable bred the chestnut gelded son of Gold Fever.

The winner paid $4.30, $2.20 and $2.10. Niigon returned $2.50 and $2.10. His Smoothness was $4.60 to show.

The remainder of the field, in order of finish, was Just in Case Jimmy, Copper Trail, Picadilly Bay and One to Celebrate.

(Chart, Equibase)