`Saint' keeping fine company

Maryland-based Sweetnorthernsaint is heading down a course toward the Kentucky Derby after his Illinois Derby victory


Camera shutters clicked, one after another, creating an unfamiliar staccato sound in Sweetnorthern- saint's ears. The horse turned his dark brown head with the distinctive blaze down the middle of his face and pricked his ears, as interested in the commotion as the ones making it were interested in him.

Yesterday was a sunny, but cool morning at Barn 33 at Laurel Park. And it had been a good morning for the thoroughbred, who has become the star of the backstretch after winning the Grade II Illinois Derby to earn his way to the May 6 Kentucky Derby in Louisville.

Sweetnorthernsaint went out for his usual 8:30 a.m. gallop over 1 1/2 miles on Laurel's freshly combed dirt track, then returned to the barn for a walk, a fresh green slice off a hay bale and a leg bath.

A typical day. Except it wasn't. The media would assemble at Barn 33 at 10 a.m. for Sweetnorthernsaint's own media day. And trainer Mike Trombetta was a little more watchful of Sweetnorthernsaint's every move - and of the horses moving around him.

During his gallop, the trainer moved closer to the rail when another horse cut in front of Sweetnorthernsaint.

"Come on, Donnie, get out of the way," Trombetta said with a touch of irritation at exercise rider Donnie Krone. When a lively gray horse later came bouncing along the rail, mere feet from where Sweetnorthernsaint was taking his cool-down stroll coming off the track, Trombetta again came to attention.

"I send him out first thing after the break, so the track is freshly harrowed," he said. "But you can see, it's a time when there is a lot of activity."

When Sweetnorthernsaint came alongside him, Trombetta told exercise rider Ernesto Ferdinand: "Tomorrow, let's stall for seven minutes or so - look how quiet it is out here now."

The track was nearly empty of horses, a sight the trainer appreciated.

"My heart can't take all the craziness," Trombetta said.

Trainers always want to protect their horses, but with a horse like Sweetnorthern- saint, who likely will be among the top four or five favorites in the Derby's 20-horse field, well, the intensity rises.

"I don't know how else to describe it," Trombetta said. "It's one of the most important things you can do in this business and you need to try to do it right."

After Sweetnorthernsaint's cool-down walk - accompanied by Trombetta - and after having him back out in the sunshine for his wash and hay, the trainer kept his charge in the shed row for photographs.

Though Trombetta said the session was good training for his horse, he didn't bring him into the sunshine to parade him around.

"I certainly don't want to bring him out here," Trombetta said, motioning to the asphalt area outside his barn. "My objective is to keep him healthy. You've seen how fast he can run. If something happened and he got away from me, I have a lot better chance of catching him along the shed row than I do out in the open, chasing him down the road."

But nothing happened. Saint, which is what Sweetnorthern- saint's team calls him, acted like one.

Acted like a star. Standing, posing. Looking back at the cameras looking at him.

"Nothing bothers him," said Ferdinand, who described riding Saint as "like being in a limousine. He's smooth."

Trombetta didn't argue. He said he has a horse that not only is going to the Kentucky Derby, but is also capable of winning it.

"He's very cool, very relaxed," Trombetta said. "I hope he handles all the stuff [in Louisville] the way he has handled everything else. ... He's a celebrity now. I'm hoping he can continue to improve his status."

Notes -- Trombetta said Sweetnorthernsaint will work over five-eighths of a mile Saturday. He is tentatively scheduled to leave for Louisville on Tuesday. The horse will van to Kentucky. Though a long trip, it is about two hours shorter than the drive he took to Illinois, where he responded by blowing away a high-caliber field by nine lengths. Trombetta said in Kentucky he will have one more workout the next Saturday and he hopes jockey Kent Desormeaux, who will ride the horse in the Derby, will be on him for that final workout.



Sire -- Sweetsouthernsaint (Saint Ballado)

Dam -- Ice Beauty (Waquoit)

Breeder -- Eduardo Azpurua (Fla.)

Lifetime record -- 6 starts, 3 wins, 1 third

Graded stakes earnings -- $320,000, ninth among Kentucky Derby qualifying contenders

Home base -- Laurel Park

Owners -- Baltimore-area residents Ted Theos and Joe Balsami

Trainer -- Perry Hall native Mike Trombetta

Jockey -- Kent Desormeaux (above), two-time Kentucky Derby winner

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