12/29/2007 1:00AM

Cannonball battles Cowboy Cal in derby

EmailMIAMI - Cannonball, who turned into one of the top 2-year-old turf horses in the country after trainer Wesley Ward switched him to the grass during the fall, will share top billing with Cowboy Cal when they head a full field of 12 3-year-olds in Calder's $100,000 Tropical Park Derby on Tuesday. The Grade 3 Tropical Derby is traditionally the first graded stakes race to be decided in North America each year.

The Tropical Derby, at 1 1/8 miles on turf, will be supported on the 12-race New Year's Day program by its filly counterpart, the $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks, which will have a field of a dozen 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles.

Cannonball, a New York-bred son of Catineus, finished off the board on dirt in his first two starts, the second of which came under a $50,000 claiming tag against statebreds at Saratoga. But after moving to the grass, Cannonball responded with a pair of victories, including a nose triumph against open company in the King Cugat Stakes. He capped off the year finishing third just five days later in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.

"The way the Breeders' Cup was shaping up, I never thought we'd get into the race, which is why I ran him in the stakes in New York five days earlier," said Ward, who trains the homebred for owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. "If I had been sure we'd have been able to run in the the Breeders' Cup, I would have passed that first race. And I believe if he hadn't been coming back on such short rest, he'd have won the Turf."

Cowboy Cal, a Giant's Causeway colt, is unbeaten and virtually untested in two starts on grass. Cowboy Cal concluded his juvenile campaign for trainer Todd Pletcher with a 6 1/4-length victory in the Laurel Futurity on Nov. 24.

Pletcher will also send out Why Tonto, winner of the World Appeal Stakes on the Meadowlands turf, and he has Fire Lookout on the also-eligible list.

Other key contenders include Moral Compass, who finished third behind Cannonball in the King Cugat, Celestial Comet, and Titan of Industry. The locals include Wise Answer, Joey the Scholar, and Pir at the Moon. Wise Answer, the top 2-year-old at Calder in 2007, will be making his grass debut in the Tropical Derby.

Tropical Oaks: Several try to fulfill promise

Fillies who played on the fringes of turf prominence as 2-year-olds will try to get away to a breakthrough start in 2008 when they clash as 3-year-olds in the $100,000 Tropical Park Oaks.

Among the fillies in the field who showed considerable promise last year by winning or finishing close in stakes company are Bsharpsonata, Absolutely Cindy, and Robbie's Gal.

Bsharpsonata, based in Maryland with trainer Tim Salzman, was the most accomplished at 2 by virtue of her victory in the Selima Stakes over the Laurel Park turf and a fourth-place finish in the Epitome on Breeders' Cup weekend at Monmouth Park. Bred and owned by Cloverleaf Farms, Bsharpsonata recently was shipped south and recorded a sizzling workout on the local grass course when she zipped a half-mile in 45.40 seconds on Dec. 24.

Absolutely Cindy, based at Turfway Park with breeder-owner-trainer Keith Kinmon, wheels back just 10 days after finishing a distant third in the six-furlong Gowell Stakes over the Polytrack surface at her home track. Kinmon conceded before that race that Absolutely Cindy probably is better with more ground and on turf, and that's exactly what she got when winning two starts back in the Caressing Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Robbie's Gal knocked out a restricted stakes in her last start after finishing a close second in a Florida Stallion Stakes in her previous race, so clearly she brings form and recency to the table Tuesday.

Others to consider in a wide-open renewal of the Oaks include Calico Bay, a major player all year in the Florida Stallion series; Cato Major, who was eighth in the Epitome; and three winners of allowance races in their latest starts: Creative Design, Encanto Park, and Placia.

The Tropical Oaks goes as the fifth of 12 Tuesday races and will be run about an hour before the derby, which is carded as the seventh. First post is 12:25 p.m. Eastern.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee