04/02/2006 1:00AM

Sweetnorthernsaint to Illinois Derby

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CHICAGO - Sweetnorthernsaint will race next weekend 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 afternoon.

Trombetta had closely monitored the expected composition of both races during the last week before making his choice, and 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. "I think there are more legitimate contenders in New York than in the race out there."

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

Saturday at Laurel, , whose work was timed in 47.20. Kent Desormeaux has the mount on Saturday.

Sweetnorthernsaint figures to be the first or second choice in the Illinois Derby wagering with Cause to Believe, who worked five furlongs before the first race Saturday at Golden Gate Fields, and also ships to Hawthorne on Tuesday. In all, the local derby is expected to draw nine horses when entries are taken Tuesday, with My Golden Song, Malameeze, Devilofarush, Mister Triester, Lewis Michael, Racketeer, and Itsallboutthechase expected to start. Creative Force is a possible starter.