TORONTO - The final Prince of Wales Stakes horse race at Fort Erie Racetrack will go on without Queen's Plate winner Strait of Dover.
Trainer Dan Vella said Wednesday Strait of Dover won't be running in the $500,000 Prince of Wales, a 1 3/16-mile race which will be held July 15. Strait of Dover's absence means there again won't be a Canadian Triple Crown winner this year.
Wando was the last to accomplish that feat in 2003.
But of equal significance is Strait of Dover not running at Fort Erie Racetrack. The 115-year-old facility has hosted the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown since 1929 but is scheduled to close Dec. 31.
"We'd love to go down there and run," Vella said. "It's a great race, it's a great purse and has a lot of history there.
"You'd like to but you can't.''
The decision to close Fort Erie came after Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced he was axing a slot machine revenue-sharing program with provincial racetracks. The agreement gives them approximately $345 million annually to split with horse owners and breeders but is scheduled to be cancelled by March 2013.
Vella understands the significance of having Strait of Dover run at Fort Erie. However, the decision to keep the Queen's Plate winner away is hardly surprising.
The problem is Strait of Dover doesn't run well on dirt tracks, which is the surface at Fort Erie. The horse's difficulty on dirt was a major reason why owners Wally and Terry Leong decided to move Strait of Dover from Hastings Park in Vancouver to Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack.
Strait of Dover has thrived on Woodbine's polytrack. The wire-to-wire, 1 1/4-length Queen's Plate win was the horse's fourth straight on the surface since making the move from B.C.
What's more, Strait of Dover hasn't finished out of the money at Woodbine — he won his first race there last November but was relegated to third after being disqualified. Strait of Dover was fifth and sixth in his first two career starts on the dirt at Hastings Park.
"He trained over the winter on (dirt) and didn't ever get really good on it," Vella said. "His form from out west says the rest.
"One thing that you always have to do is put the horse first and the rest comes along.''
But Vella isn't turning his back on the Fort Erie facility to race elsewhere this month. In fact, he has no plans to run Strait of Dover before the $500,000 Breeders' Stakes on Aug. 5, a 1 1/2-mile turf event at Woodbine that's the final jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown.
"The timing is good for us," Vella said. "We don't mind running him a little further apart.
"We like to have a nice, fresh horse.''