08/19/2005 12:00AM

Festival day finally here


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - What started as a tearful goodbye has become perhaps the most anticipated day of racing at the Canterbury Park meet.

On Sunday, the Minnesota Festival of Champions, a series of nine stakes restricted to Minnesota-breds - seven for Thoroughbreds and two for Quarter Horses - will be run for the 11th time. Purses for the nine stakes total $320,000.

When it appeared Canterbury would be permanently closed in 1992 under the stewardship of the Ladbroke Corporation, the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association and local horsemen assembled the first Festival of Champions Day card, which was held on the final day of the race meeting. When the track re-opened in 1995 under its current management, the Festival of Champions was one of the first fixtures returned to the local racing calendar. This year's Festival will include a tribute to the Minnesota Sprint Champion Crocrock, who died earlier this year following a career in which he won seven stakes while securing the all-time earnings record for purses accrued at Canterbury Park.

This year's edition of the $55,000 Northern Lights Futurity, a six-furlong race, brings together one of the strongest fields of Minnesota-bred 2-year olds colts and geldings to compete in the race. The pro tem leader of the division is The K B Kid, who is undefeated in three career outings. After winning his maiden impressively at Canterbury Park, The K B Kid shipped to Prairie Meadows, where he dominated in the restricted ITBOA Sales Futurity. That effort made The K B Kid the favorite when he was returned to Canterbury to face statebred rivals in the Timeless Prince Stakes. Sent off at 3-5, The K B Kid gave his backers some anxious moments when he appeared to lose his focus in midstretch, but under firm handling from rider Glenn Corbett, The K B Kid regained his best stride to hold Bow River safe by three-quarters of a length. Corbett returns to Canterbury to ride for trainer Todd Hoffrogge.

Bow River also brings impressive credentials to the Northern Lights. The $37,000 sale topper at the 2004 MTA yearling sale, Bow River was purchased by Frances Genter Williams, daughter of the late Frances Genter. Bow River won his maiden with something to spare and then overcame trouble at the break to be second in the Timeless Prince Stakes. Seth Martinez rides for trainer Michael Stidham.

Not to be overlooked in the Northern Lights field is Bjellebo. Produced by state champion mare Samdanya, who was herself a Northern Lights winner, Bjellebo won his maiden in May with an eye-catching performance. Trainer Mike Biehler has given Bjellebo nearly 11 weeks between starts but employed similar tactics last season to win the female division of the Northern Lights with Wa Wa Windy. Martin Escobar has the call.

'Sentimental' back with statebreds

A well-matched group of 2-year old Minnesota-bred fillies meets in the $55,000 Northern Lights Debutante. Sentimental Charm has had the Debutante circled on her calendar since she won her maiden in May by 5 1/2 lengths. Tried in the interim against open company, Sentimental Charm has not disappointed, finishing second in the Prairie Gold Lassie and the Canterbury Lassie Stakes last month. Troy Bethke trains Sentimental Charm, who will be ridden by Derek Bell.

Argianna looms the most likely upset prospect in the six-furlong Debutante. A daughter of Count the Time produced from Canterbury 1995 horse of the meet Argenti, Argianna has steadily improved this meet and found her best form in her last appearance when she beat maidens by 8 3/4 lengths.

In other Festival of Champions races:

* Wally's Choice heads a four-horse field in the $45,000 Minnesota Classic Championship, a 1 1/16-mile contest for colts and geldings. The winner of last year's Grade 3 Oklahoma Derby, Wally's Choice has been solid all meet, winning the Blair's Cove Stakes and finishing third against open company in the John Bullit Stakes.

* Bleu's Apparition may be returning to her best form just in time for the $40,000 Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship, which was rendered a wide open contest following the last minute defection of early favorite Shakopee due to a training mishap.

* A. Caterina will try to defend her title in the $45,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic Championship, a 1 1/16-mile contest for fillies and mares.

* Vazandar, winner of the Shot of Gold and 10,000 Lakes Stakes this season, will be trying to find his early season form when he takes on six rivals in the $40,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship at six furlongs.

* Now Playing, winner of the last two runnings of the $40,000 Minnesota Turf Championship, meets a formidable rival in Victor S. Myers Jr. winner Lt. Sampson while trying for a three-peat.