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Hawthorne Race Course

Hawthorne Racecourse (4/16/07)

Contact: Mitch Demick (708) 222-4542

Showdown In Stickney

Graded stakes winners Sweetnorthernsaint and Master Command will do battle on Saturday, when Hawthorne hosts the 52nd running of the Grade 3 National Jockey Club, a mile and an eighth event for three year olds and upward. The winner will get the lion's share of a $250,000 purse.

The presence of two such talented older horses kept all the sophomores in the barn, but it certainly didn't keep Mr. Todd Pletcher there. Taking a break from parading one of his army of three year olds, Pletcher nominated both the undefeated Half Ours and Master Command for this test, and though it is highly unlikely that Half Ours will be entered, it did catch the attention of Sweetnorthernsaint's trainer Michael Trombetta.

“Nice. Beating one Pletcher horse is tough enough, but two?” Trombetta kidded. He also has no expectation of facing both of the Aaron and Marie Jones' horses, but even if he did, he might have a horse good enough to beat them both.

With Sweetnorthernsaint, he enters a horse who is 6 for 13 lifetime with earnings of nearly $730,000. Amongst his triumphs was the 2006 Illinois Derby, a dominating performance over the same surface he'll run on Saturday. “He ran great there last year, and everyone treated us well. I hope we have the same success this time,” Trombetta said. “The horse is doing well, he worked 1:02.0 on Saturday (5 furlong breeze at Laurel Park) and he's ready to go.” In Sweetnorternsaint's last start he galloped against an overmatched field of five, on a muddy track the four year old so clearly loves.

Jockey Mario Pino will get the call.

Master Command will give Pletcher a golden opportunity to complete a sweep of Illinois' two biggest stakes races of its spring meet, having won the Illinois Derby a week ago with Cowtown Cat.

Seeking his third consecutive graded win, Master Command took a while to get his act together, but Pletcher always thought he would. “We've always been high on him. And like most A.P.Indy's, he's gotten better with both age and distance.” Pletcher might have also been referring to traveling distance. When Master Command breaks the gate on Saturday it will mark the 10th different track he has raced in his last 11 starts. Is that by design or coincidence?

“No question he is a good traveler, always has been, but mostly we've been looking at races run at a mile and an eighth.” As for running at Hawthorne, the prolific trainer feels his horse's style of laying close fits the Stickney oval well, and looks for a similar journey come Saturday.

So how will the race shape up? Both horses have similar running styles and John Velazquez, who is aboard Master of Command, and Pino aboard Sweetnorthernsaint, have little experience over the racetrack, so what will the trainer's instructions be? Trombetta for one responded, “I'll let the jockeys work it out. He's (Pino) done this a few times.”

Pletcher's biggest concern come race day isn't the race set up, but rather the competition.

“Sweetnorthernsaint is one very nice racehorse. The fact that he's won there before is a plus for them. Also I wish I didn't have to give three pounds.”

These two classy horses will keep the field short for the National Jockey Club, but if it's quality before quantity that you prefer, you'll get a double dose on Saturday.

Hawthorne Race Course races five days a week, Thursday through Monday through April 29. Located at Cicero or Laramie Avenues at 35th Street, gates open daily at 7 am. Call (708) 780-3700 or visit the Web site at




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