04/03/2006 12:00AM

'Saint' on for Illinois Derby


Sweetnorthernsaint will race next Saturday in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne rather than the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and will ship from his home base at Laurel Park to Chicago by van on Tuesday, trainer Mike Trombetta said Sunday.

Trombetta said he had picked out the Illinois Derby because it offered Sweetnorthernsaint a better chance to pick up graded stakes earnings he could need to get into the Kentucky Derby.

"The long and short of it is I'm down to crunch time in terms of graded money," Trombetta said.

Sweetnorthernsaint stamped himself as a legitimate Triple Crown hopeful with a close third-place finish last month in the Gotham Stakes, in which he was beaten less than a length in his first two-turn trip.

Saturday at Laurel, Sweetnorthernsaint worked a half-mile in 47 seconds, the fastest time of the morning.