03/30/2009 11:00PM

Perfect Song out for echo in Illinois Derby

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STICKNEY, Ill. - If Perfect Song comes anywhere close to duplicating the performance of trainer Mike Trombetta's last Illinois Derby winner, Sweetnorthernsaint, the colt's stakes debut on Saturday at Hawthorne will almost certainly be a success.

Sweetnorthernsaint shipped here from Maryland in 2006, and ran so rapidly winning the Illinois Derby by more than nine lengths that he was mildly favored - over Barbaro, no less - to win the Kentucky Derby a month later. Didn't happen, of course, with Sweetnorthernsaint a troubled seventh before gaining a measure of redemption with a second-place finish in the Preakness Stakes. And Trombetta is not making comparisons to Sweetnorthernsaint, or even calling Perfect Song a Triple Crown hopeful - at least not yet.

"We're on the outside in terms of top Derby potential," Trombetta said Tuesday morning. "With Sweetnorthernsaint, we ran that race and it wound up making us favored come Derby time. Now, I don't expect that situation, but if he were to perform well, we'd have to give [the Derby] some thought."

Perfect Song has so far done little wrong. A $67,000 Pleasantly Perfect yearling owned by Robert Veratti, Perfect Song came to Trombetta's barn last July, but wasn't ready to race at 2. But when he got around to making his career debut on Jan. 20 at Philadelphia Park, he definitely was ready. Perfect Song made the lead on a fast pace, and never really slowed down, running six furlongs in 1:09, including a final furlong in less than 12 seconds.

Trombetta is based at Fair Hill in Maryland, and Perfect Song trains there on a synthetic Tapeta track, but he did not handle Polytrack on Feb. 21 at Turfway Park. Trombetta said he shipped Perfect Song there as "a dry run" for the Lane's End Stakes, but Perfect Song lost an allowance race by a head at 1-5, struggling over the surface. Back on dirt, Perfect Song quickly got back on track. He beat just three foes while on the lead in a Laurel entry-level allowance on March 14, but was timed in a swift 1:37.40 for the one-turn mile in a solid stepping-stone kind of race to the $500,000 Illinois Derby.

Perfect Song will ship in Wednesday and get in two gallops over the Hawthorne dirt surface. Trombetta will fly in Thursday night to watch him train the following morning.

Pletcher sending pair

Trainer Todd Pletcher said Al Khali and Il Postino were likely to start here in the Illinois Derby, with Pletcher's third entry in the Hawthorne race, Lord Justice, likely to run in the Wood Memorial Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct.

Il Postino exits a $20,000 maiden-claiming win at Gulfstream, albeit a win of almost 12 lengths.

"Figure-wise, his race came up pretty strong," Pletcher said. John Fort, principal in owner Peachtree Stables, "wanted to take a shot in a race like this rather than run in a starter allowance."

Al Khali has a much more exotic history. Bred in Kentucky, Al Khali is a son of successful $40,000 stallion Medaglia d'Oro, but as a yearling, Al Khali sold for just $15,000 at Keeneland's September sale. He wound up in Peru, where two flashy victories last fall caught the eye. Pletcher said that a bloodstock agent named John Fulton recommended Al Khali, at which point owner WinStar Farm purchased him.

"He came to us in November at Palm Meadows after his quarantine," said Pletcher. "He trained steadily and well."

He also won his North American debut, taking a nine-furlong entry-level allowance race - surely a class hike over the Peruvian contests - on March 6.

"The idea was if we ran well we'd move into a stakes," Pletcher said. "We got a very good foundation into him before that race."

With Lord Justice likely to come out, the Illinois Derby could go with a field of 10 if locally based Knight Shot actually runs. Tampa Bay Derby winner Musket Man, and Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes runner-up Giant Oak lend depth to the field.

Featured allowance a solid affair

The featured eighth here Thursday actually is one of the stronger races so far this Hawthorne season, a second-level allowance over six furlongs for fillies and mares that attracted several nice horses.

Four-year-old Lune Rouge will be making her 2009 debut for trainer Joe Kasperski, and was among the top Illinois-bred 3-year-old fillies of 2008. Not far below her in that division last year was Big Lou, who also is in Thursday's feature. Hello Again won an open stakes earlier in the Oaklawn meet, while trainer Roger Brueggemann, who has sent out 24 of 34 horses to finishes of third or better at this meet, entered two horses, Our Blaze and Highness.

But the pick is Runningatem, who debuted only last October at Hawthorne, and didn't really come on until late in the year. But after winning two straight at the fall-winter meet here, Runningatem was visually impressive and quick against the clock in a March 12 victory here, and she may well win her fourth straight race on Thursday.