Heavy favorite Sweetnorthernsaint, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, continued his fast development with an eye-catching 9 1/4-length win in the $500,000 Illinois Derby (gr. II) at Hawthorne Saturday.
The dark bay Florida-bred Sweetsouthernsaint
gelding blew past pacesetting Mister Triester at the top of the stretch and demolished his foes in the lane, stamping his ticket for the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum Brands! (gr. I) next month. He completed the 1 1/8-mile assignment in 1:49 4/5.
He earned $300,000 for owner Joseph J. Balsamo and Ted Theos.
Trained by Michael Trombetta, the lightly raced Sweetnorthernsaint was flying under the Derby radar before making his graded stakes debut with a strong closing third-place finish under Desormeaux in the Gotham (gr. III) March 18. Facing a field that included only one graded stakes winner Saturday, the winner was sent off at odds of 13-10.
"This horse improved leaps and bounds since the last time I rode him," said Desormeaux, who earned his third Illinois Derby victory after capturing the race in 1997 with Wild Rush and last year with Greeley's Galaxy. "Michael said 'don't give up on him.' He's really a great horse, and he strutted that stuff today."
"I'll tell you right now, the Belmont would probably be the easiest thing for this horse. He's going to enjoy distance. The mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby is the classic distance, and I think it's right between his eyes."
Trombetta said he chose to run in the Illinois Derby over the Wood Memorial (gr. I).
"He's a very talented individual. There was always a question of rate-ability. He showed today he can do whatever (Desormeaux) wants him to do. I hope we're in Louisville four weeks from now. If he's doing well, we'd love to be a part of (The Derby)."
The 27-1 Mister Triester, with Brice Blanc aboard, held on stubbornly for second after setting soft fractions – :23 2/5, :48 and 1:13 – by one length over Cause to Believe, the 2-1 second choice who had won five of his previous six starts, including the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Bay Meadows in January.
"He was so comfortable," Blanc said. "He finished out good, but the other horse drew away from us. Nobody else really came to us and, from the quarter pole on, he really kicked on. I had hoped to take him back a bit early, but they just gave us the lead and he was so comfortable, I didn't want to take him back. He did have a good trip."
Sweetnorthernsaint had to check at the start but moved up quickly on the outside in the run into the clubhouse turn. He contested Mister Triester on the front end until reaching even terms at the quarter pole, shaking loose shortly after hitting the stretch run.
Cause to Believe had a ground-saving trip for jockey Russell Baze and was in good position as he angled out for the stretch run but faltered late. He finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of Lewis Michael, who was followed by Malameeze, Racketeer, My Golden Song, Creative Force, Itsallaboutthechase, and Devilofarush.
"I was hoping that there would be a little more speed in there," said Baze. "My horse ran his race, but he just wasn't good enough today."
Sweetnorthernsaint, who won for the third time in six starts and bumped his total earnings to $377,000, paid $4.60, $3.20, and $3. Mister Triester, who was coming off a fourth-place finish behind Brother Derek in the Santa Catalina (gr. II) at Santa Anita a month ago, returned $19 and $8. Cause to Believe was $2.60 to show.
Eduardo Azpurua bred the winner, who is out of Ice Beauty, by Waquoit.