02/02/2006 1:00AM

Sweetnorthernsaint favored off maiden score


Six weeks ago, Sweetnorthernsaint was racing against maiden claimers. After posting one of the fastest Beyer Speed Figures by a 3-year-old in January, he's now a Triple Crown nominee.

Based on his one outstanding performance against maidens in New York, is the 6-5 favorite on the track's morning line for Saturday's $75,000 Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel Park.

The one-mile race for 3-year-olds drew a field of 11.

Far back in his career debut on turf last August in Virginia, Sweetnorthernsaint didn't race again until Dec. 21. His new trainer, Mike Trombetta, risked losing Sweetnorthernsaint in a $40,000 maiden claiming race. Although he romped by 16 lengths, Sweetnorthernsaint was disqualified for bumping another horse at the start.

Fortunately for owners Joseph Balsamo and Ted Theos, no one dropped a slip in the claiming box to take Sweetnorthernsaint. Seventeen days later, he defeated straight maidens by 7 3/4 lengths at Aqueduct. The 102 Beyer he earned ranks in a tie for seventh among 3-year-olds who raced the first month of 2006.

"Any a time a horse runs that good, you have to be surprised," Trombetta said. "He had some behavioral issues at Colonial Downs and was gelded after his debut. After being DQ'd at Laurel, we shipped him to New York because we really liked him. We were highly impressed by his win and nominated him to the Triple Crown.

"The Miracle Wood race is a nice step to take, since it's only one turn," he added. "We're confident that he'll go two turns successfully when asked."

If Sweetnorthernsaint regresses in his first start against winners, Vegas Play and Creve Coeur, separated by a half-length as the one-two finishers in the Maryland Juvenile Championship on New Year's Eve, have the capability to win.

managed to beat Creve Coeur despite hitting the rail at the eighth pole. A come-from-behind horse, Vegas Play must overcome post 11 this time.

, trained by Graham Motion, has 2 seconds and 2 thirds in 6 starts in stakes. He responded to his first try at a mile on dirt with a career-best 77 Beyer.

Also dangerous is Nine Best, a Penn National-based horse who defeated Creve Coeur by 3 1/2 lengths while winning the H. Steward Mitchell at Laurel on Nov. 26. Trainer Flint Stites has given Nine Best a freshening since then.

The only other horse in the field to have won going a mile is Vestments, who defeated maidens two starts ago, but faded badly when he came back to face winners nine days later.