08/27/2009 11:00PM

Festival of Champions closes out meeting


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - State championship honors are on the line when statebreds compete in the Minnesota Festival of Champions, which concludes the Canterbury Park meeting on Sunday. The card includes seven Thoroughbred and two Quarter Horse stakes, which feature several intriguing matchups between the 3-year-old division and their older rivals.

One of those showdowns will take place in the $50,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic for fillies and mares at a 1 1/16 miles when leading 3-year-old Chick Fight meets 4-year-old Pretty As a Smile.

Chick Fight has been dominant when facing statebred rivals this season, first capturing the Frances Genter Stakes in July by daylight, then returning four weeks ago to prevail in the Minnesota Oaks, her first attempt around two turns. Leading rider Dean Butler was aboard for those two outings and has the call from trainer Mac Roberston.

Pretty As a Smile overpowered her rivals to draw clear by 9 1/4 lengths in last season's running of the Distaff Classic and returns to defend her title. Second in an allowance sprint two weeks ago, Pretty As a Smile appears primed to take the fight to her younger rival by using front-running tactics from her rail post. Nik Goodwin has the call from trainer Gary Scherer.

Suddenly Silver defends title

Another 3-year-old versus older company showdown takes place in the $50,000 Minnesota Classic Championship, which will field last year's winner, Suddenly Silver, against Minnesota Derby winner Perfect Bull.

Suddenly Silver is from the barn of leading trainer Mac Robertson, who breezed the 5-year-old gelding a bullet half-mile on Thursday in preparation for this 1 1/16-mile contest. Derek Bell rode Suddenly Silver to victory in last season's Classic Championship - which he won by more than 13 lengths - and will be aboard again Sunday.

Perfect Bull gives every impression that he will be more than a statebred stakes winner. A winner over older rivals in his first local start, Perfect Bull shipped to Iowa where he finished fourth in the Prairie Mile Stakes after a wide trip. A repeat of his four-length Minnesota Derby win earlier this month might be good enough to win here. Butler rides for his father-in-law, trainer Bernell Rhone.

Bet Your Boots favored

The $60,000 Northern Lights Futurity features a field of six 2-year-olds but parimutuel attention will be focused on Bet Your Boots, who became an early favorite for this race when he won his maiden by 17 lengths in June. Tried next in the Prairie Gold Juvenile, Bet Your Boots finished third to Western Smoke, then had a troubled trip when fourth in the Brian Barenscheer Juvenile in his most recent outing. Paul Nolan rides for trainer Troy Bethke.

Canterbury Park Chairman Curtis Sampson's Rustic Road also suffered a troubled trip in the Barenscheer Stakes and looms the strongest danger to the favorite in the six-furlong Northern Lights.

Debutante looks wide open

Nine 2-year old fillies skirmish in the $60,000 Northern Lights Debutante, a six-furlong contest where nearly every entrant stands a chance to prevail.

Her Sweet Saint may prove a slight favorite on the strength of her reputation. The sales topper at last year's Minnesota Thoroughbred Association yearling auction, Her Sweet Saint won her debut impressively but finished a distant fifth when trying open company in a subsequent allowance. Ry Eikleberry has the call for trainer Vic Hanson.

* Thanks for the Tip and Bella Notte, the one-two finishers in last season's Distaff Championship Sprint, face off again while meeting six other rivals in this year's $50,000 renewal of the six-furlong sprint.

* Eight colts and geldings vie in the $50,000 Sprint Championship, a six-furlong race that features last year's winner, Sir Tricky, and recent Kenny Schoepf Stakes winner Nomorewineforeddie.

* Blair's Cove winner Joni's Justice takes on the 5-year-old mare Seasahm, venerable Wally's Choice, and four other older rivals in the $50,000 Minnesota Turf Championship at a mile.