12/28/2007 1:00AM

Last year's Derby favorite returns

EmailWhere does a beaten Kentucky Derby favorite go for the rest of his career? Apparently a lot of places.

Sweetnorthernsaint races at his seventh different track and returns to Kentucky for the first time since his seventh-place finish as the 5-1 favorite behind Barbaro in the 2006 Derby. He will be the solid favorite Saturday in the $50,000 Holiday Cheer at Turfway Park.

Mike Trombetta will be looking to punctuate a breakthrough year in his 19-year training career when he sends Sweetnorthernsaint from Maryland for the 4-year-old gelding's first start in seven months. Trombetta, who as recently as 2004 had never won more than 27 races in a season, has more than 100 victories this year, easily a career high.

Sweetnorthernsaint, with Victor Lebron to ride, has been assigned post 12 in the Holiday Cheer, a six-furlong race carded as the 11th of 12 races. Although Sweetnorthernsaint seldom has raced at such a short distance, he will be fresh from a layoff and should be ready to show his speed. Perhaps more importantly, Sweetnorthernsaint clearly is the class of the race, having earned $860,175 from 15 starts while frequently racing in graded stakes.

Trombetta, 41, has seen his career skyrocket in recent years and trains one of the largest and most successful stables on the East Coast. Into Thursday's action, he had sent out 103 winners, surpassing his former career high of 78 set last year, for stable earnings of more than $3.5 million. Trombetta also is scheduled to have P. Kerney in action Saturday in the Gravesend Handicap at Aqueduct.

If for some reason Sweetnorthern-saint does not bring his "A" race from Maryland in his first race over a synthetic surface, the beneficiary logically would be Junior College, a romping winner of an overnight stakes at Churchill Downs in his last start. Fringe contenders include Reigning Court, Carnacks Choice, and Storm Marcopolo.

Twelve 3-year-olds and upward will run in the Holiday Cheer. Two allowance races also are carded for the 1:10 p.m. Eastern program. Live action continues daily at Turfway through Tuesday, after which the track goes dark for one day before racing resumes Thursday.