07/31/2003 12:00AM

Suntana, Sir Augustus ones to beat


WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Two renditions of the North Dakota Stallion Stakes highlight the card here Saturday, with $20,000 up for grabs in the 3-year-old division and $30,000 available for the 2-year-old race.

Restricted to foals sired by stallions made eligible through the North Dakota Thoroughbred Association, the third race will showcase the 3-year-olds, with the 2-year-olds going to post in race six.

Suntana, owned by Bonnie Larson and trained by Blair Miller, will be heavily favored to take the 3-year-old division as the lone speed of the 1 1/16-mile race. A multiple stakes winner in 2002, Suntana on Saturday will face only four rivals, none of whom has any real speed.

A Sun Man gelding, Suntana has had been unable to make an easy lead against the open 3-year-old division or against restricted company this year.

In his last start, the one-mile North Dakota Derby on July 3, Suntana was caught in a suicidal duel before eventually finishing fourth. The horse he dueled with finished far back. The connections of Suntana's rivals here Saturday know this and could be reluctant to tackle him early here.

If there is an upsetter in the field, it is probably Heezatalknback, trained by Ardell Sayler for Here 2 Win Stable. Heezatalknback has been running decent races against good company, and he will be taking a class drop for this race, as will Suntana.

Rounding out the field are maidens Strate Excellence, Angel Luck, and Jill's Polka.

The 2-year-old race, to be run at six furlongs, looks more competitive, with at least four of the seven entrants having a legitimate shot to win.

Sir Augustus, trained by Sayler for Play 2 Win Stable, looks like the horse to beat as one of only two winners in the field. He won his maiden in his most recent start and defeated fellow Stallion Stakes entrant Tabanka Fella in the process.

Tabanka Fella, trained by Ron Gray for himself and partner Leslie Wladyka, could improve enough to turn the tables on Sir Augustus after finishing second in his opener.

Rounding out the field are Labaca, recently second after dueling throughout in a maiden race for a $12,500 tag; Northern Stride, a recent winner by seven lengths at Chippewa Downs; Coal Smudge, who was wide in his lifetime debut; and first-time starters Each Leebidee Angel and Strike an Image.