- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

BALTIMORE — For as long as Michael Trombetta could remember, the third Saturday in May always meant a trip to Pimlico Race Course for the Preakness Stakes.

And Saturday will be no different. Trombetta and more than 100,000 others will watch Barbaro try to take a second step toward the Triple Crown.

But instead of watching as a trainer/fan from the bleachers, Trombetta will saddle Sweetnorthernsaint in the Preakness — a lifelong dream for the Maryland native.

Sweetnorthernsaint is 4-1 on the morning line and will start from the No. 7 post position in the field of nine. Barbaro is an even-money favorite.

“It would mean a lot for me to do well here on Saturday,” Trombetta said. “I’ve gotten to watch the Preakness every year and all of us guys get an opportunity to see the Grade I winners come to town. You just step back and watch because it’s not something we get to do everyday.”

Sweetnorthernsaint isn’t a Grade I winner like Barbaro and Brother Derek, but he has proven to have Grade I talent. He will enter the Preakness with a 3-for-5 record this year. He was seventh as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago.

A 20-year training veteran, almost exclusively in Maryland, Trombetta lives in Kingsville and is headquartered at Laurel Park.

“It would be super special,” he said of a Preakness victory.

Even though Sweetnorthernsaint finished 13 lengths behind Barbaro in the Derby, he had a sub-par trip and jockey Kent Desormeaux throttled back on the horse down the lane to save some energy.

“Amazingly enough, once he got back home, he looked good,” he said. “Each day has gotten better and my confidence has grown each day. It takes a little bit of time to get over it, but I’ve got a good horse and I got him healthy.”

Sweetnorthernsaint made his big move halfway through the race, passing six horses to sit in fifth. A mile into the race, he was in third. But he fell behind closing horses.

“Unfortunately for him, the only passing lane was what I would call a dead rail that nobody really wanted to be on,” Trombetta said. “That’s why it was available for him and it pretty much emptied his tank — he got tired chasing. Horses can only sustain a high-speed run for so long and he was basically being asked from the three-quarters pole on. There’s not a whole lot of them out there that can do that.

“We were all expecting a speed duel that just never materialized. Everybody thought Sinister Minister would be out there. My horse and Brother Derek got shuffled back.”

Brother Derek also deserves consideration to dethrone Barbaro because of his troubles in the Derby. Brother Derek finished in a dead heat for fourth despite running in 16th place with a quarter-mile remaining. It’s that closing kick that gives trainer Dan Hendricks a similar confidence level as Trombetta.

Brother Derek (3-1) will start the Preakness from the 5 post position.

“In one sense, you could say he ran his best race,” Hendricks said. “He faced adversity, lost a shoe, ran wide and still ran a very credible fourth. And he could have been second.”

Brother Derek started the Derby from the No. 18 post position and quickly moved to ninth place after the opening quarter mile. But horses started backing up and Brother Derek was shuffled back to 16th. Solis had to swing his ride to the outside and an opening to return inside never materialized.

Like Trombetta, Hendricks is impressed with Barbaro — who won the Derby by 61/2 lengths — but not intimidated enough to keep his colt in the barn.

“It’s not demoralizing to me,” he said. “They did a [heckuva] job with Barbaro and they had ready to run at peak performance. I hope with a clean trip, we can outrun him; if I can’t, I hope he wins the Triple Crown.

“But looking at the race over and over again, I can feel nothing but good about him because he ran super.”

It will take a super effort by Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek to get past Barbaro.

“They both had traffic problems in the Derby,” Barbaro trainer Michael Matz said. “With a clean trip, I expect both of them to run well on Saturday.”

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