08/17/2007 12:00AM

Champions Day a day of rivalries


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - When the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association held its first Festival of Champions Day for Minnesota-breds on closing day of the 1992 meeting, business levels at the track were at an all-time low and the future looked dark for racing in the state. That first Festival Day drew a large crowd and was an undeniable success.

Fifteen years later, the festival remains extremely popular and is expected to draw one of the largest crowds of the summer to Canterbury. This year's festival, one of the strongest ever, comprises seven Thoroughbred and two Quarter Horse stakes.

One of the most anticipated meetings of the day will come in the $45,000 Minnesota Classic Championship, when Trickyville Dew and Rock' N Fire renew a rivalry that began last season. Rock' N Fire won this event last year with a memorable trip that saw the unpredictable gelding bolt to the outside fence after taking the lead, slowing to a near stop, then rallying with a rush to prevail in a finish that was later televised on ESPN. Rock' N Fire displayed similar antics in his most recent outing, when he captured an allowance on the turf, ducking out sharply at the wire and nearly unseating rider Adolpho Morales.

Morales has the return call in the Classic Championship for trainer Bruce Riecken.

Trickyville Dew bested Rock' N Fire in last year's Minnesota Derby. He has had several sharp works at trainer Kelly Von Hemel's base at Prairie Meadows. Leading rider Derek Bell has the assignment on Trickyville Dew in the 1 1/16-mile contest.

Trainer Jamie Ness haltered Mack's Monarch earlier in this meeting with the Classic Championship as a possible target. His impressive win over allowance foes in his last start suggests Mack's Monarch could pull the minor upset under rider Seth Martinez.

* The $45,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic at 1 1/16 miles renews another rivalry, this one between brothers Richie and Gary Scherer. In this event last season, the Richie Scherer-trained Glitter Star prevailed over the Gary Scherer-trained Ma Home Cat in a finish that was decided by the stewards after the pair exchanged bumps at the top of the lane. Glitter Star will have Martinez aboard for the Distaff Classic. Ma Home Cat, who narrowly prevailed in the Princess Elaine in her most recent outing, will have Juan Rivera up.

* The one-mile $45,000 Minnesota Turf Championship features two of the top three finishers from the Blair's Cove Stakes in Torpedo Man and Chaska. Torpedo Man prevailed in that meeting and will be ridden by Scott Stevens in the Turf Championship. Rivera has the call on Chaska, who has had traffic problems in his last two starts. The rapidly improving Joni's Justice looms as an upset threat with Bell in the irons.

* Three venerable Minnesota-breds square off in the $45,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship. Last year's Sprint winner Careless Navigator takes on 10,000 Lakes winner Sir Tricky and Vazandar.

* Impressive maiden winner Wild Shifter might prove the narrow favorite in a wide-open renewal of the $55,000 Northern Lights Futurity. The six-furlong contest has 11 2-year-olds.

* The $55,000 Northern Lights Debutante features A. J. Bakes, runner-up in the Prairie Gold Lassie who returned to Canterbury last month to defeat colts in an optional claiming test. Several promising maiden winners, including first-out winners Pretty as a Smile, Chandi's Prize, Jane's Gold, and Arghazi, all loom as upset threats in the six-furlong contest for 2-year-old fillies.

* Sentimental Charm will be heavily favored in the $45,000 Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship. A close second as a 3-year old in this event last year, Sentimental Charm will be ridden by Bell.