'Saint' Ready to March in Kentucky

Sweetnorthernsaint, under jockey Kent Desormeaux, won Saturday's Illinois Derby by 91/4 lengths.
Sweetnorthernsaint, under jockey Kent Desormeaux, won Saturday's Illinois Derby by 91/4 lengths. (By Horsephotos.com)
By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, April 10, 2006

Considering the next stop will be his first Kentucky Derby, trainer Michael Trombetta sounded fairly relaxed after his gelding Sweetnorthernsaint crushed the field in the Grade II $500,000 Illinois Derby on Saturday by 9 1/4 lengths.

"I flew home last night, and I'm on my way to Laurel right now. I've got a couple running this afternoon," Trombetta said yesterday. "I'm trying to keep everything in perspective. I'm prepared to get real busy with all this stuff here. That's what's going to happen."

Not since Talk is Money finished last in 2001, has a horse based at Laurel Park, Pimlico or the Bowie Training Center competed in the Kentucky Derby. Often, runners will rise up from the local tracks and try the Preakness Stakes, but even when they do well, such as runners-up Scrappy T last year and Magic Weisner in 2002, they usually are long shots.

The Kentucky Derby is another matter, and barring a mishap during the next 26 days, Sweetnorthernsaint will go into America's most famous horse race as one of the clear favorites.

His performance in the Illinois Derby looked brilliant, albeit against modest competition. Breaking from the outside post in the field of 10, Sweetnorthernsaint quickly maneuvered to secure position under jockey Kent Desormeaux, hounding long-shot leader Mister Triester into the first turn of the 1 1/8 -mile race.

Sweetnorthernsaint remained within striking distance after six furlongs, run in 1 minute 13.10 seconds, and made his challenge for the lead with a quarter-mile remaining. Mister Triester dug in for the fight while Cause to Believe, the second betting choice in the race, launched his rally.

Then, suddenly, Desormeaux began urging Sweetnorthernsaint with his hands, and the horse was gone. He ran the final eighth of a mile in a blazing 12.08 seconds. No one else could keep up. By comparison, Bob and John ran the final eighth over a sloppy track in 14.06 seconds to win Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

"Michael has done a great job with this horse," Desormeaux said after the Illinois Derby. "I'll tell you right now, the Belmont would probably be the easiest thing for this horse. He's going to enjoy distance. The mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby is the classic distance, and I think it's right between his eyes."

After Sweetnorthernsaint won the Miracle Wood Stakes on Feb. 4 at Laurel with the same type of powerful late move, Trombetta, 39, said the horse was the best he had trained in his 20-year career.

With the harsh spotlight that accompanies the Kentucky Derby about to be fixed on him, Trombetta is trying to keep the moment from carrying him away. Still, he knows what's coming.

"This is what we prepare ourselves for," he said. "We try to aspire to get one of these nice horses. Its not a whole lot different than what we do every day. It's just bigger. Much bigger."

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