06/19/2007 11:00PM

Strong card set for opener


EDMONTON, Alberta - Northlands Park opens Friday for a 61-day summer meeting that offers a lucrative schedule of 34 stakes races, highlighted by the 78th running of the $300,000 Canadian Derby Aug. 25.

The Grade 3 Canadian Derby is the richest prize in Western Canada and is sure to attract top-quality 3-year-olds. Last year's Canadian Derby winner, Shillelagh Slew, returned to his Woodbine base to win the Ontario Derby on his way to capturing a Sovereign Award as Canada's champion 3-year-old colt.

Other highlights of the stakes schedule, worth a record $2,345,000, are the $100,000 Northlands Oaks for 3-year-old fillies on July 21; the $100,000 Speed to Spare on Sept. 8, which was won by Canada's champion older horse True Metropolitan last year; and the increasingly popular Fall Classic Day for Alberta-breds, which offers seven stakes totaling $400,000 on Sep. 29.

Post times are 6 p.m. on weeknights and 1 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The meeting winds up on Sept. 30.

Racing secretary Fred Hilts reports all available stalls are occupied, and he was able to put together a strong card for opening night despite the fact that horsemen are in the midst of shipping following the conclusion of the 50-day spring stand at Stampede Park in Calgary last Sunday. Hilts traveled to Stampede last weekend to take advance entries and the move paid dividends.

The featured seventh race, a $19,000 first-level allowance at 6 1/2 furlongs, drew a contentious group of nine entrants.

Happy Emigrant, one of four 3-year-olds in the field, is primed for a top effort. Trained by Carson Frey, the improving Happy Emigrant dead-heated for third in his latest while beaten just a head by Prospect Begonia, who returned to run fourth in the Alberta Derby despite being squeezed back at the break.

The Kentucky-bred Happy Emigrant drew post 4 and retains the services of jockey Stephan Heiler, who enjoyed his best-ever meet at Stampede Park.

Little Grizz and Super Cruise merit respect despite the fact they both have had plenty of chances to win out this condition.