08/22/2002 11:00PM

Madam Speaker headlines Festival

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SHAKOPEE, Minn. - This year's ninth running of the Minnesota Festival of Champions on Sunday at Canterbury Park will feature six Thoroughbred and two Quarter Horse races for runners bred in Minnesota.

The Northern Lights Futurity and Debutante have been the major targets for Minnesota owners-breeders since Canterbury first opened, and this year's renewal of the two races for Minnesota-bred 2-year-olds appear very competitive.

Twelve 2-year-old fillies will run in the $50,000-added Northern Lights Debutante at six furlongs, and Madam Speaker should prove a slight favorite. Madam Speaker is owned by Almar Farm and trained by Vic Hanson, who has trained the Debutante winner in each of the last two years.

When Madam Speaker debuted in June, she broke last in a field of seven but sped well clear to prevail by better than four lengths. Tried next against open company in the Canterbury Juvenile, she overcame a poor break to menace briefly while caught four wide on the turn. In her return to statebred competition in the Debutante, Madam Speaker receives Lasix for the first time and will keep rider Derek Bell, who is battling Seth Martinez for the riding title here.

Joy Shannon looked just as impressive as Madam Speaker when winning her maiden, defeating open company by 3 1/2 lengths in the first 2-year-old race of the year run here. She finished third after forcing the pace against colts on a drying-out surface in the Minnesota Juvenile Sprint three weeks ago but should contend for the win in the Debutante with a repeat of that performance.

Traffic Belle, Littlemisscantbwrong, and Maywood's Jill each won by daylight margins in their last starts, and each is an upset threat in the Debutante.

The $50,000 Northern Lights Futurity at six furlongs has attracted nine colts and geldings. Son of Rhea will be favored off his impressive maiden win two weeks ago. A half-brother to Northern Lights Debutante winner Tamanowas, Son of Rhea is trained by Wilson Brown for owner Darwin Olson. Martinez returns in the irons.

Recent maiden winners Imagery and Captain Andrew appear to have good chances in the Futurity. Runners Ima Smarty Boy and Strategury each suffered troubled trips in their previous starts and loom as upset possibilities.

In other Festival races:

o J. P. Jet, the impressive winner of this year's Minnesota Derby, faces two past Minnesota Derby winners Now Playing and Ashar in the $40,000-added Minnesota Classic Championship. Bleu Victoriate, a winner in the 2000 renewal of the Classic, looms an upset possibility in the 1 1/16-mile race.

o Minnesota Oaks winner Susie Blues steps up to try older company in the $40,000-added Minnesota Distaff Classic Championship. The 1 1/16-mile contest features the rapidly improving Aashu, a winner of her last two starts on the main track. Also entered are Oaks runner-up Lakeville and Frances Genter Stakes winner Demiparfait. An intriguing entry is Pickin the Pace, a full sister to Minnesota Derby winner Nix of Time who races on just three days rest.

o Crocrock returns to defend his title in the $35,000-added Minnesota Sprint Championship. The six-furlong contest also features off-the-pace threats Timberwolf Power and Tushar.

o Lady Slipper Stakes winner Blumin Bauble squares off against Nidari in the $35,000-added, six-furlong Minnesota Distaff Sprint Championship, a race Nidari has captured the last two seasons.