Sweetnorthernsaint, the 3-year-old colt tucked away in Stall 5 of Barn 33 at Laurel Park, has come a long way in the last two months.
Once an unknown, the horse will be shipped to Louisville next week and, barring a setback, will run in the Kentucky Derby on May 6.
Coming off an impressive win in the Illinois Derby on April 8, Sweetnorthernsaint won’t be at Churchill Downs just for show. After the major prep races, the horse is ranked by most as the fourth-best prospect in the Derby, behind Brother Derek, Lawyer Ron and Barbaro.
“The most exciting part of this is I’m going there with a serious contender that has earned a lot of respect and has a chance to win,” trainer Mike Trombetta said. “It’s a wonderful experience, for sure, but it’s even more special because he’s run fast and won a major race along the way.”
Sweetnorthernsaint made only two starts as a 2-year-old, and is 3-for-4 this year. He will become the first Maryland-based horse to run in the Derby since Talk Is Money finished last in 2001 and will try to become only the third gelding since 1929 to win the Derby.
“We’re living in a little bit of a dream right now with this guy and hopefully it can continue,” said Trombetta, a Maryland-reared trainer who has never saddled a Triple Crown race starter. “Every year, we start out with a bunch of young horses and you never really know where the nice ones are.”
In Trombetta’s eyes, Sweetnorthernsaint became a “nice one” following an allowance win Jan. 7 at Aqueduct. He followed with a win at Laurel and a third in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
Instead of staying at Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial, Trombetta elected to run in the Illinois Derby. It proved a wise move.
As the post-time favorite, Sweetnorthernsaint stalked Mister Triester before taking the lead at the top of the stretch and pulling away for a 91/4-length victory.
The win turned heads nationally and also turned around the plans for Trombetta. Before the Illinois Derby, Kentucky was on the radar, but the Preakness on May 20 was the focal point. After the Illinois Derby, it was Louisville or bust.
Trombetta said Sweetnorthernsaint will work Saturday at Laurel, ship to Kentucky on Tuesday and work at the Churchill Downs track April 29.
“[Saturday] will be his first workout back since his race, and generally, the first one is a little more to the easier side of things and then we’ll pick it up for the one in Louisville,” he said.
Sweetnorthernsaint will work a half-mile or 5/8-mile on Saturday, followed by a more aggressive 5/8-mile work a week before the Derby.
Sweetnorthernsaint has run against only one other probable Derby horse — Keyed Entry was second in the Gotham Stakes on March 18.
A contender fell off the Triple Crown trail Monday when Discreet Cat, winner of the UAE Derby in Dubai last month, was removed from consideration for the Kentucky Derby. Discreet Cat, owned by Godolphin Racing, will ship to the United States on April 23 but will be prepped for the summer and fall campaigns. In the final round of the Derby Future Wager Pool, Discreet Cat was the third favorite, behind Brother Derek and Lawyer Ron.