03/31/2006 1:00AM

Work to tell for Eastern contender

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Sweetnorthernsaint was scheduled for a Saturday breeze to determine his next start.

STICKNEY, Ill. - There are at worst seven and at best as many as 10 horses that might start Saturday in the $500,000 Illinois Derby, Chicago's only Kentucky Derby prep race. And while the race is still a week away, entry day comes up much sooner, since the National Jockey Club puts together their Saturday programs on Tuesday.

By then we should know if Sweetnorthernsaint, a highly regarded East Coast-based horse, is coming to Hawthorne Race Course or taking a shorter trip from his home base at Laurel Park to the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. National Jockey Club racing officials had hoped to secure a commitment from trainer Mike Trombetta sometime this week, and Trombetta himself had said on Monday that he planned to decide which way Sweetnorthernsaint was going by week's end, but instead Trombetta will await a Saturday workout before finalizing his plans.

"He'll breeze Saturday, and we should have it all firmed up by Sunday morning," Trombetta said.

Sweetnorthernsaint finished a close third last out in the Gotham Stakes and would figure to be no worse than second choice should he come for the Illinois Derby. The likely favorite, Cause to Believe, is scheduled to arrive on Tuesday from northern California.

Also considered likely starters by National Jockey Club racing officials are Devilofarush, Itsallboutthechase, Lewis Michael, Malameeze, Mister Triester, My Golden Song, and Racketeer. Sayhellotolarry, trainer Harold Williams said, will stay home for the Arkansas Derby, while trainer Chris Block said he would wait until Monday before deciding whether to enter locally based Creative Force.

Mister Triester, trained by Warren Stute, was to have arrived at Hawthorne on Friday, but it is another Southern California-based colt, Racketeer, who might attract more attention, in great part because of his connections, trainer Bobby Frankel and jockey Pat Valenzuela. Frankel confirmed on Friday that Racketeer would ship for the Illinois Derby, flying first to Kentucky next week before traveling here by van. Racketeer has made just four starts, and in his two-turn and stakes debut finished a close fourth March 18 in the San Felipe Stakes.

"I thought he ran very game," Frankel said. "He's a nice horse. He tries real hard."

Keeneland next for Coolwind

Coolwind, the most accomplished 3-year-old filly stabled at Hawthorne, will make her 2006 debut in an upcoming Keeneland stakes race, and trainer Greg Geier said he is leaning toward the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on April 8 over the April 13 Beaumont Stakes. The Ashland is contested around two turns at 1 1/16 miles, while the Beaumont is run at seven furlongs, but Geier said he is not afraid to send Coolwind off at two turns in her first start since November, especially when the Ashland is expected to draw a significantly shorter field than the Beaumont.

"She's training super," said Geier, who has gotten 28 furlongs worth of workouts into Coolwind since Feb. 15. "She worked real good again [Wednesday] and galloped out good."

Coolwind finished third last season in a pair of Grade 3 stakes, but was a distant fourth in her lone start around two turns, the Alcibiades at Keeneland. Geier attributed her performance that day to difficult circumstances, and believes Coolwind can race effectively over a route of ground.

Meadow Bride heads feature

It has become the normal course of events for Illinois-breds to dominate entries in high-end open allowance races at the National Jockey Club meet, and Sunday's featured fourth race is no exception. While Sunset Kisses and Ghostly Gate are nice enough horses, the Sunday feature looks like a showdown between the Illinois-breds Meadow Bride and Capistrano.

Capistrano comes off a 10-length victory in her first start of the year, Meadow Bride a second-place finish in her 2006 debut, but it is Meadow Bride who clearly is the horse to beat.

Trained by Richard Hazelton for the Asiel Stable, Meadow Bride, 4, developed quickly last season when Hazelton got her into two-turn races, and at the end of her 3-year-old season she beat older horses in the Illini Princess Handicap over this racetrack. Her race on March 18 was at six furlongs, too short for Meadow Bride's best, and she was beaten by the good sprinter Bluesbdancing.

Stretched out two one mile and 70 yards on Sunday, Meadow Bride should get rolling in plenty of time to run down Capistrano, who, while impressive in her last start, beat four overmatched rivals with help from a perfect trip.