08/17/2006 11:00PM

Action heavy at Festival

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Canterbury Park celebrates the continued survival of racing in Minnesota when it hosts the Minnesota Festival of Champions, which features seven Thoroughbred and two Quarter Horse Stakes for statebred runners.

Conceived in 1992 as a farewell to Minnesota racing when Canterbury's future seemed uncertain, the first Festival of Champions was held on the last day of racing before the track was closed for almost three years. When the track reopened for live racing in 1995, the Festival found a permanent place on Canterbury's racing calendar, and it continues to be one of the most popular days of racing at this meeting.

The $55,000 Northern Lights Futurity for 2-year olds is one of the most highly anticipated events of the season, and this year's field includes several runners who have demonstrated the ability to compete in open stakes company.

Sul Lago might be favored in the Northern Lights. A daylight winner in his first start at this meeting, Sul Lago made a determined late run to finish second behind Tie Rod in the Barenscheer Juvenile last month. The six-furlong distance of the Futurity should aid Sul Lago's pronounced late-running style.

Jet Cape looked very impressive when he won his maiden in his debut last month.

Just One Spot had a similarly dominating performance when he led a maiden field from gate to wire two weeks ago, drawing clear by more than seven lengths. Trained by Mike Biehler, Just One Spot has the pedigree to be a major factor in the Northern Lights. His dam, Dot's Moment, was a legendary Minnesota-bred runner. Nik Goodwin rides.

Bee O Bee Bob made a big impression in his career debut last month. After spotting the field five lengths, he circled foes to win his maiden. Tried next in the Barenscheer Juvenile, Bee O Bee Bob finished fourth, beaten three lengths. Israel Ocampo rides.

The $55,000 Northern Lights Debutante looms as a memorable rematch between Caitri and Run With Joy, who finished one-two in a maiden special weight contest here on Fourth of July weekend.

Run With Joy finished second that day but had a valid excuse after hitting the gate and running six wide into the stretch. She returned 2 1/2 weeks ago to trounce maiden foes by 8 1/4 lengths and, like Sul Lago, might be favored in the Northern Lights off that performance.

Caitri bested Run With Joy by 6 1/2 lengths in their first meeting and has worked steadily in preparation for the Northern Lights.

Cousin Sue was claimed at Churchill Downs following an eight-length win over maiden claiming foes. She finished third behind Unbridled Ambience in the Canterbury Lassie Stakes.

In other stakes on the card:

* Wally's Choice is the prohibitive favorite in the $40,000 Minnesota Classic Championship at 1 1/16 miles. A winner of this event last season, Wally's Choice's most recent victory came in the Blair's Cove earlier this meet. Rock' N Fire, winner of the Victor S. Myers Jr. earlier at this meeting, looms as the upset threat.

* Oh You Again, winner of the Frances Genter last season, takes on this year's Genter winner, Sentimental Charm, in the $40,000 Minnesota Sprint Distaff Championship at six furlongs. Last year's Distaff Sprint winner, Bleu's Apparition, is also entered.

* Lt. Sampson will try to repeat in the $40,000 Minnesota Turf Championship after winning this event last season.

* Careless Navigator, who won the 10,000 Lakes in May, meets Minnesota Derby winner Trickeyville Dew in the $40,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship.

* Glitter Star, last year's champion Minnesota 3-year-old filly, returns to defend her title in the $40,000 Minnesota Distaff Championship. Chasin Mason, winner of this year's Minnesota Oaks, looms as an upset possibility in the Distaff.