05/30/2006 11:00PM

Sweetnorthernsaint to sit this out

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Trainer Mike Trombetta says Preakness runner-up Sweetnorthernsaint needs to take a little break.

It seems that Bob and John and Sweetnorthernsaint have been circling one another all spring, but only once have their paths crossed, and neither had much to show for it. Both disappointed in the Kentucky Derby, but then Sweetnorthernsaint went on to the Preakness Stakes, while Bob and John returned to California to await the final leg of the Triple Crown, the June 10 .

On Wednesday, they continued on divergent paths. Sweetnorthernsaint was officially removed from consideration for the Belmont, meaning no 3-year-old will compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown this year. Bob and John, however, signaled his readiness for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont with a swift, best-of-the-morning drill at Santa Anita.

Sweetnorthernsaint won the Illinois Derby this spring on the same day that Bob and John annexed the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Sweetnorthernsaint went to Hawthorne that day in part because trainer Mike Trombetta assumed the Wood would be the tougher race of the two. He got the money, so who could argue?

At the Derby, Sweetnorthernsaint had a deceptively tough trip and finished seventh as the favorite. He came back two weeks later and finished second in the Preakness, but Trombetta on Wednesday said that was enough - for now.

"We don't want to overdo it," Trombetta said from Laurel Park in Maryland, where he is based. "Now's the time to take half a step back."

Trombetta said the minor foot injury that Sweetnorthernsaint suffered in the Preakness played no part in his decision. "It's fine," he said. Rather, Trombetta said he thought it was time to regroup and point for important races this summer.

The first major goal, Trombetta said, will be either the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, or the Grade 3, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. Both are on Aug. 6.

"I'd like to run him once before then in July," Trombetta said.

Sweetnorthernsaint was the last possible horse who could have run in all three legs of the Triple Crown. Twenty horses ran in the Derby, but only three of them returned in the Preakness. Barbaro, the Derby winner, suffered career-ending injuries in the Preakness. Brother Derek, who was fourth in the Preakness after finishing in a dead heat for fourth in the Derby, has returned to California, where he is being freshened.

Bob and John had his freshening after the Derby, in which he finished 17th. His trainer, Bob Baffert, decided it was prudent to bypass the Preakness and shoot for the longer Belmont. On Wednesday, Bob and John sizzled six furlongs in 1:12.20 at Santa Anita, the best time of 22 at the distance.

Both Baffert and Garrett Gomez, who rode Bob and John in the Derby, said they believe the lumbering colt never had a clear path in the race.

"I'm definitely drawing a line through the race," Gomez said. "He's a big colt. He kept getting knocked around the whole time. He got slammed going to the wire the first time, got slammed around the first turn. I finally had him moving forward with some nice progress - I was liking my chances at the half-mile pole - and I had a horse run into my hind inside quarter. [It] completely turned him sideways and he just quit."

Gomez said he believes the wide, sweeping turns of Belmont Park will benefit Bob and John.

"There's a lot more room out here," Gomez said at Belmont Park. "Even if you get five horses abreast, it doesn't seem like you're in tight anywhere. At those other racetracks you're always setting up for a turn. Here, when you hit the turns you're still kind of running straight, even though you are turning. It's a real gradual turn."

Baffert said Bob and John would be flown to New York next Wednesday.

"He's got the right style for that race," Baffert said. "He's big, with a high cruising speed."

At Belmont on Wednesday, Platinum Couple breezed a half-mile in 51.67 seconds. He was sixth in the Preakness after skipping the Derby.

- additional reporting by David Grening

Belmont contenders

Horses pointing for the 138th Belmont at Belmont Park on June 10.

HORSETRAINERJOCKEYLAST RACE
Bluegrass CatT. PletcherJ. Velazquez2nd, Ky. Derby
Bob and JohnB. BaffertG. Gomez17th, Ky. Derby
Deputy GlittersT. AlbertraniE. Prado8th, Ky. Derby
Hemingway's KeyN. ZitoJ. Rose3rd, Preakness
High FinanceR. VioletteE. Coa1st, Bel allowance
JazilK. McLaughlinF. Jara4th*, Ky. Derby
Oh So AwesomeJ. JerkensM. Smith3rd, Match the Hatch
Platinum CoupleJ. LostrittoJ. Espinoza6th, Preakness
Sacred LightD. HofmansV. Espinoza2nd, CD allowance
SteppenwolferD. PeitzR. Albarado3rd, Ky. Derby
SunriverT. PletcherR. Bejarano1st, Peter Pan
Possible entrants
Cause to BelieveJ. HollendorferR. Baze13th, Ky. Derby

* - Dead heat