08/19/2003 11:00PM

Stakes set for Challenge weekend

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One Rare Bug, the 2002 champion 3-year-old colt, heads the Grade 2, $79,470 MBNA America Central Challenge, the highlight of three Challenge-program stakes at Prairie Meadows this weekend.

On Friday, females will compete in the Ford Central Challenge. Saturday night will feature the MBNA America Central Challenge and the John Deere Central Challenge for 870-yard runners.

One Rare Bug, owned by Peter Band and trained by Ed Hardy, earned his championship with five stakes wins last year, highlighted by the Grade 1, $175,000 Bayer Legend Challenge Championship and the Grade 3, $94,375 Sunland Fall Derby.

Panther Mountain, owned by Guy Weimer and trained by Janet VanBebber, comes into the MBNA America Central Challenge looking for his first 2003 stakes victory after having won the Grade 1, $210,000 Los Alamitos Winter Derby in 2002.

Trainer Charley Hunt has solid chances with Baltimore Lou in the Grade 3, $23,220 Ford Central Challenge and with Finish Line Express in the Grade 3, $21,780 John Deere Central Challenge.

Nancy McCoy's homebred Baltimore Lou goes for her second consecutive win in the distaff division of the AQHA Challenge Series in the 400-yard Ford Central Challenge. She comes off a win in the Grade 3, $21,240 West/Southwest Ford Distaff at Arapahoe Park on July 4.

Finish Line Express, owned by Walt Fisher, defends his title in the John Deere Central Challenge. He won last year's Central Challenge by three lengths and then ran third in the Grade 1, $75,000 MCI Challenge Championship.