Sweetnorthernsaint returns from a 7 month layoff in the Holiday Cheer.

Sweetnorthernsaint returns from a 7 month layoff in the Holiday Cheer.

Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club

Sweetnorthernsaint Back in Action

The former Kentucky Derby starter will run for the first time in seven months Dec. 29

Last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) favorite Sweetnorthernsaint returns from a seven month layoff Dec. 29, taking on 10 rivals in the $50,000 Holiday Cheer Stakes at Turfway Park.

A runaway winner in the 2006 Illinois Derby (gr. I), Sweetnorthernsaint will cut back to six furlongs in the Holiday Cheer, the first time since breaking his maiden that the 4-year-old gelding will try that distance. The race, to be held on the Turfway Polytrack, will also be Sweetnorthernsaint’s first try on an artificial surface.

Trainer Michael Trombetta said the distance and surface changes are all part of his master plan to run the son of Sweetsouthernsaint in next month’s $1-million Sunshine Millions Classic on the Santa Anita Cushion Track. In January he placed third in the event, but it was on the dirt at Gulfstream Park.

“I sent him up to Graham Motion about three weeks ago to work over the Fair Hills synthetic surface,” Trombetta said. “He’s been training good. He doesn’t necessarily have to win this race for us to go to the Sunshine Millions. We just want to see if he handles the surface.”

The 5-1 favorite when Barbaro won in 2006, Sweetnorthernsaint finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and then was a distant second to Bernardini in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Since then, he has raced seven times at six different racetracks, winning a pair of stakes. His most recent victory was in March, taking the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Handicap at Laurel Park.

Out of the Waquoit mare Ice Beauty, Sweetnorthernsaint has placed second in two graded stakes since that victory, including a neck defeat in his most recent start, the May 28 Lone Star Park Handicap (gr. III).

“There was no significant injury,” said Trombetta, who has more than 100 wins this season and is enjoying the best year of his career. “He came out of the Lone Star race tired and he doesn’t do well in the summer when it’s hot, so we gave him some time off.

“He’s based in Maryland, but you have to move around when there is $250,000 in Chicago (National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne) and $400,000 in Texas. We’re trying to take advantage of the right spots for him.”

Sweetnorthernsaint, bred in Florida by Eduardo Azpurua, is the 6-5 favorite in the Holiday Cheer and will break from post 10 with Victor Lebron riding for the first time. He runs for Joe Balsamo and Ted Theos.

Main competition could come from seasoned sprinters Junior College, Reigning Court, and Storm Marcopolo.

Junior College is coming off of a five-length score in the six-furlong Bet on Sunshine Handicap at Churchill Downs Nov. 17. The 5-year-old Ide gelding, trained by Anthony Reinstedler, has won nine of 20 starts in his career, most of them at this distance.

Reigning Court is also used to sprinting, having won three times this year, all in allowance competition. The 4-year-old gelding by Glitterman also won the Kentucky Cup Sprint (gr. III) at Turfway last year.

Storm Marcopolo won seven consecutive sprints in Argentina before shipping to the United States this summer. He has started twice at Churchill since his arrival, but did not hit the board either time. Ken McPeek trains.