01/25/2007 12:00AM

Sweetnorthernsaint will have to hustle

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Sweetnorthernsaint will break from post 12 in Saturday+s Sunshine Millions Classic, but his trainer still expects him to be forwardly placed early.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Over the last three years, only one horse has won a race decided at 1 1/8 miles at Gulfstream Park after breaking from post 10 or beyond. That horse was Barbaro in the 2006 Florida Derby.

It may just take a Barbaro-like performance for Sweetnorthernsaint to overcome post 12 in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic, the richest of the eight Sunshine Millions races to be run at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita on Saturday. The fifth annual Sunshine Millions, which is restricted to Florida-breds and California-breds, will be telecast on NBC from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern.

Despite his unlucky starting position, Sweetnorthernsaint is expected to be favored in the Classic. A 4-year-old son of Sweetsouthernsaint, he also went off the public's choice in the 2006 Kentucky Derby but could finish no better than seventh after an unlucky trip. Sweetnorthernsaint bounced back from that performance to finish second behind ultimate

3-year-old champ Bernardini in the Preakness, after which he went to the sidelines for five months to recuperate from his rigorous early-season campaign.

Sweetnorthernsaint has made three starts since returning to action in October, registering a pair of easy wins in small fields at Laurel and Delaware before opening 2007 by finishing a tiring third as the 6-5 favorite here this month in the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Handicap. Ramon Dominguez will be aboard Saturday.

"Obviously getting post 12 is not the ideal situation with such a short run to the turn," said Michael Trombetta, who trains Sweetnorthernsaint for owners Joseph Balsamo and Ted Theos. "We're at a disadvantage, but we've just got to roll with the punches. This is going to make things a little tougher on the rider. My horse has some speed and he usually likes to be forwardly placed, and I have every confidence Ramon will be able to find a spot."

As if drawing post 12 weren't bad enough, Trombetta got another jolt the following day when Sweetnorthernsaint kicked him in the chest while he was out grazing on Monday morning.

"I'm sore but didn't get hurt badly," said Trombetta. "Maybe he just doesn't like the way I'm training him. Or maybe he was just mad about the post position."

For those who feel the outside post is enough reason to play against the favorite, the alternatives are many.

Silver Wagon is the only Grade 1 winner in the field, although that milestone came during his 2-year-old campaign in 2003. Now 6, the son of Wagon Limit turned in arguably the best performance of his career in his last start, when he rallied from far back to an easy 5 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Sport Page Handicap at Aqueduct.

The key to Silver Wagon's chances in the Classic is the distance, as he has yet to win beyond seven furlongs. He did finish second and third going 1 1/16 miles here at 3 in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

"He's doing well and I'm not worried about the distance, but the reason we're in here is for the big money," said Richard Dutrow Jr., who took over Silver Wagon's training midway through his 2006 campaign. "He'll go back to seven furlongs after this."

If Silver Wagon wins the Classic it will be at the expense of his younger brother Rehoboth, a 4-year-old. Both horses are by Wagon Limit out of the Darn That Alarm mare So Ritzy. Rehoboth flourished at Calder during the second half of his 3-year-old campaign, winning three stakes and finishing third in the Grade 3 Spend a Buck Handicap. He finished four lengths behind Sweetnorthernsaint when a late-striding fourth in the Hal's Hope.

Papi Chullo also demands respect while making his first start for trainer Louise Teater. A well-traveled son of Comeonmom, Papi Chullo finished second behind Magna Graduate to close out his 2006 season in the Grade 3 Queens County Handicap. Papi Chullo won 2 of 8 starts last year while competing at seven different racetracks.

The four-horse California-bred contingent in the Classic is led by Texcess and McCann's Mojave. Texcess won the California Cup Classic in his last start. He began 2006 by finishing third behind Lava Man in the Sunshine Millions Classic.

McCann's Mojave will bring a two-race win streak into the Classic, with both of those victories coming over wet tracks. He, too, competed in this race a year ago at Santa Anita, finishing sixth after prompting the early pace.