`Saint,' `Brother' trainers keep the faith

Trombetta, Hendricks look forward to second chance at beating Barbaro

May 16, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro had better keep his eyes focused on the road ahead of him, because if he happens to look back Saturday in the 131st Preakness, he'll see at least two horses - Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek - aiming for the bull's-eye on his rump.

"We all know who the target is now," said Mike Trombetta, Sweetnorthernsaint's Laurel Park-based trainer. "The focus of the whole race in the Kentucky Derby was the big speed race up front that never really materialized but had everyone looking to conserve their horses. And it was a 20-horse field.

"Now, everybody knows the target. The field is going to be small. And they [the jockeys] will ride the race accordingly."

Brother Derek was the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and Sweetnorthernsaint ended up the betting favorite. Both horses had bad trips and finished fourth and seventh, respectively.

Now comes the Preakness, and the two pre-Derby favorites have something more in common. Both are aiming to beat Barbaro.

Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek are the only two Derby horses whose trainers appear willing to take another shot at Barbaro in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

"My horse deserves another chance at him," Trombetta said.

And Dan Hendricks, who trains Brother Derek, said the same.

"You could say my horse ran his best race ever in the Kentucky Derby," Hendricks said of Brother Derek, who rallied to a dead heat for fourth with Jazil. "He took dirt. He took adversity. He went wide and he circled the field and he lost a shoe, I mean, and still finished very credible fourth, and, you know, I could easily say he could have been second. So that's got to be one of his best efforts.

"Now, with a clean trip, I'm just hoping I can outrun him. And if I can outrun him, I'm top 3-year-old again. If I can't, I hope he wins the Triple Crown ... every time."

Hendricks said the Preakness is setting up as a true test of talent.

"It's looking like it will be a very true-run race and a really good race," he said of the field that may barely reach double digits.

Trombetta said he is hoping in a clear duel, Sweetnorthernsaint can outrun Barbaro, too, and he has reason to believe he can.

When Trombetta watched a tape of the Derby last week, he saw his horse take a sidestep just before the starter opened the gate. His horse leaped forth out of balance and was bumped.

"Can you believe that?" Trombetta said. "Twenty horses break and mine is the only one that gets bumped out of the gate? You look at that tape and you see nice clean gaps between every horse but ours.

"Being compromised at the start was very costly. It cost him a neck, which meant he couldn't get his shoulders up in the traffic. In a race like that, a head isn't going to be enough to stake out your ground. All our plans went up in smoke. I would never have imagined that I would be running 17th at the turn."

At that point, jockey Kent Desormeaux was simply looking for a path. It appeared along the rail, the last place Trombetta wanted his horse, describing the area as "dead," which means deep, hard running for his horse.

Still, The Sweet, as his trainer calls him, made a big move from the three-quarters pole.

"Most horses can't sustain a move like that the entire time," Trombetta said. "So once he got up to third with the opening, there was not much left. We got to the bottom of him there, but, still, he finished seventh. He gave as much as you could ask in the Derby. He put on a big drive, maneuvered through traffic and gave himself a big chance."

So how will The Sweet beat Barbaro?

Trombetta hedged. If he told you straight out, he said, he'd have to lock you up in the barn until after the race.

He did allow that he believes Like Now will affect the speed of the race, just as he did while winning the Gotham Stakes and Keyed Entry did at the start of the Derby. But this time, Trombetta said, the best horses will be forwardly placed.

"I hope not to be 16th in the first turn," Trombetta said with a laugh. "I should be a lot better than that."

But it's not like football, in which a coach watches tape and maps out a game plan. Sweetnorthernsaint likes to run free and clear and has "a real nice cruising speed and when you bottle him up, it's kind of hard on him."

But as far as how he's going to beat Barbaro, Trombetta offers only the basics.

"Barbaro has passed all the tests," Trombetta said. "I hope to be a spoiler for him, but to do it we'll have to run our very best race. We'll just line up like everyone else, take him on and try to beat him head-to-head."

smm2me@aol.com

Preakness starters

Confirmed

Horse ...................................... Last start

Barbaro ................................. Ky. Derby, won

Bernardini ............................. Withers, won

Brother Derek ...................... Ky. Derby, 4th

Diabolical .............................. allowance, won

Like Now .............................. Lexington, 2nd

Hemingway's Key ............... Lexington, 8th

Sweetnorthernsaint ............. Ky. Derby, 7th

Possible

Ah Day ................................... Tesio, won

Greeley's Legacy .................. Lexington, 4th

Platinum Couple ................... Wood, 5th

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