12/01/2009 12:00AM

Cannonball, California Flag in hot Sprint field


The four races on Sha Tin's Hong Kong International Races card on Dec. 13 have attracted a record total of 34 foreign entries, three more than ran in the 14 Breeders' Cup races at Santa Anita last month.

The discrepancy is due in large part to the free ride provided to all foreign horses and their connections by the Hong Kong Jockey Club. The travel and rooming expenses of all invited horses, their owners, trainers, and jockeys, as well as spouses, are picked up by the HKJC. Moreover, there are no nominating fees to any of the four big Hong Kong races, which are worth a total of $8 million, or an average of $2 million each, compared with the Breeders' Cup average of $1,821,429.

Hong Kong's largess has attracted the attention of four American-trained horses, two of whom will go in the red-hot Hong Kong Sprint. Cannonball, a fast closing third in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, was shipped to Hong Kong early, arriving on Nov. 21, after which he spiked a fever. His illness was mild and short-lived however, and trainer Wesley Ward was never in any doubt about Cannonball's participation in the six-furlong Sprint, in which he will be facing BC Turf Sprint winner California Flag, a passel of Australian and European speedballs, and local champ Sacred Kingdom.

California Flag is due to arrive in Hong Kong on Saturday on a flight from Los Angeles that will include 1 1/2-mile Hong Kong Vase candidate Black Mamba, and Ferneley, who goes in the Hong Kong Mile. California Flag's front-running tactics will be put to the test in the Sprint by Scenic Blast, a Group 1 winner in his native Australia as well as at Royal Ascot. Australia is sending two other Group 1 sprint winners in Apache Cat and All Silent. Ireland will counter with Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp winner Total Gallery, while Britain offers two-time Nunthorpe Stakes winner Borderlescott.

California Flag's trainer, Brian Koriner, is unfazed by what might be the best sprint race run anywhere in the world this year, on turf, dirt, or synthetics.

"I'm unaware of the competition," he said, "but I do know that California Flag is ready. And he doesn't have to be on the lead. He just goes there all on his own but he can be rated if necessary."

Cannonball was slated to work on Sha Tin's all-weather track on Wednesday, as were the three Australians. All of the foreign runners are stabled at Sha Tin in the international quarantine area at the head of the stretch.

Four days before the big event at Sha Tin, which is located about 10 miles north of downtown Hong Kong, Happy Valley, situated smack in the middle of the bustling island city, will play host to the Cathay Pacific Jockeys Championship on Wednesday night, Dec. 9. Joe Talamo, who will ride California Flag in the Sprint, will fly the Stars and Stripes in a three-race competition that includes France's Christophe Lemaire, Britain's Ryan Moore, Ireland's Johnny Murtagh, and Canada's Chantal Sutherland.

* Garrett Gomez and Calvin Borel will represent the United States in the World Super Jockeys Series this weekend at Hanshin, the site of Sunday's Japan Cup Dirt. They will be joined by Lemaire and Moore as well as Michael Kinane, Ioritz Mendizabal, Doug Whyte, and Yutaka Take.