08/20/2004 12:00AM

Intriguing matchups galore


SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Youth or experience? That question will confront Canterbury Park fans when they attempt to handicap several races on Sunday's Festival of Champions Day, which features seven Thoroughbred and two Quarter Horse stakes for Minnesota-bred runners.

Vazandar, a 3-year-old owned and bred by Kissoon Thoroughbreds, faces eight older rivals in the $40,000 Minnesota Turf Championship. A winner of the Come Summer Stakes on the turf earlier this meeting, Vazandar solidified his reputation with a smashing win in the Iowa Stallion Stakes in his last start. Seth Martinez, first call rider for the Hugh Robertson barn, has the riding assignment in the one-mile turf race.

Now Playing, last year's Minnesota Turf Championship winner, returns to defend his title for his owner-breeders, Art and Gretchen Eaton. A 6-year old gelding, Now Playing showed signs of his old form when when he finished second after setting the pace in a turf route in his last start. Juan Rivera has the call.

Winter Trick poses an upset threat in the Turf Championship. A close second in the Blair's Cove Stakes earlier this meet, Winter Trick will be ridden by Martin Escobar.

Classic: Wally's Choice steps up

In the $40,000 Minnesota Classic Championship, Wally's Choice, a 3-year-old, challenges seven older rivals going 1 1/16-miles.

Campaigned by Canterbury Park chairman Curt Sampson and Wally McNeil, Wally's Choice pulled off a mild upset when he edged stablemate Lt. Sampson in the Minnesota Derby last month. Escobar takes the call for trainer Mike Biehler.

Trainer Doug Oliver and owner Jim Sterriker decided to enter Adroitly Superb in the Classic although the son of Acaroid would have figured prominently in the Turf Championship. Adroitly Superb finished a close second in the 10,000 Lakes Stakes earlier this meet and is the likely pacesetter in the Classic. Joel Campbell will ride.

Ima Smarty Boy, a heartbreak second in the Northern Lights Futurity two years ago, and Bassant, last year's Blair's Cove winner, loom as possible upsetters in the Classic.

Sprint: Crocrock vs. Lt. Sampson

In what shapes up as an excellent renewal of the $40,000 Minnesota Sprint Championship, Canterbury Park co-owner Dale Schenian's Crocrock, now 7, meets Curt Sampson's improving 3-year old Lt. Sampson. A winner of eight statebred stakes, Crocrock is the all-time leading money earner at Canterbury Park. A facile winner over statebred allowance foes in his most recent appearance, Crocrock has drawn the outside post in a field of five. As he has all season, Randy Schacht rides Crocrock for trainer Francisco Bravo.

Lt. Sampson has sparkled in several outings this season, including his impressive victory over Vazandar in the Victor S. Myers Jr. Stakes. A subsequent loss as the odds-on choice in the Minnesota Derby suggests Lt. Sampson is better sprinting. Leading rider Derek Bell has the call in the six-furlong Sprint.

Futurity: Upset possibilities

Careless Navigator, owned and bred by Almar Farm, will be favored over seven other rivals in the $55,000 Northern Lights Futurity. A 3 1/2-length winner over statebred foes in the Timeless Prince Stakes in his last start, Careless Navigator is trained by Vic Hanson.

The Futurity has featured some memorable upsets in the past, and several 2-year-old rivals could continue that trend in Sunday's six-furlong contest. A maiden race that was held here two weeks ago may provide the key to the Northern Lights. Odds-on Steak House was narrowly defeated by Key Issues in that race, while Roust About turned in a promising run for third. Honoring his first call to Robertson and Kissoon Thoroughbreds, Martinez has taken off Steak House to ride Shikhar. Derek Bell picks up the ride on Steak House.

Walter and Timeless Prince runner-up George L Brown also figure prominently in the Northern Lights.

- Shakopee and Bleu's Apparition, the one-two finishers in the Frances Genter Stakes last month will meet seven other rivals in the $40,000 Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship. The competition includes previous Genter winners Muir Eireann and Madam Speaker and this season's Lady Slipper winner Swasti.

- Eleven 2-year old fillies compete in the $55,000 Northern Lights Debutante. Saveeta may prove a slight favorite after finishing fourth against colts in the Timeless Prince Stakes two weeks ago. Maiden winners Lexingtonroad and Jills Classy merit support in the six-furlong Debutante.

- In the $40,000 Minnesota Distaff Classic Championship, Canterbury Oaks winner Nilini challenges seven others, including Princess Elaine winner Pandorasconnection.