03/19/2008 11:00PM

Cannonball capable of Lane's End upset

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - In contrast to last year's Lane's End Stakes, when Hard Spun loomed a clear class standout, Saturday's race at Turfway Park could not be more wide open. Twelve horses were entered for the Lane's End and many have a realistic shot at victory.

Given the race's competitiveness, and with so many horses shipping into Turfway from different regions, the emphasis in handicapping this race should be on value. The soundest strategy seems to be to look for a horse that might slip past the public, starting a couple ticks higher on the board than he should.

The horse most likely to offer a strong chance at a square price is Cannonball.

Although he owns some of the better Beyer Speed Figures in the field and enters this race in sharp form, his class is somewhat hidden. A former maiden $50,000 claimer, he has raced in just one graded race - the Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby, in which he was third.

To look strictly at the level of competition he has faced, one could get the impression that Cannonball might not be classy enough to win the Grade 2 Lane's End. But to my eyes, that would be an incorrect evaluation.

This is a gelding who on five days' rest ran third in the Breeder's Cup Juvenile Turf - which was not graded for its inaugural running, just like the other Breeders' Cup races that had their first running last year. Granted, the Juvenile Turf did not have the depth and talent of the Juvenile, but it did attract most of the better 2-year-old turf horses from last year, as well as a few useful stakes runners from Europe.

Cannonball followed that race by running a troubled third in the Tropical Park Derby, checking in 2 1/2 lengths behind Cowboy Cal, a Todd Pletcher-trained horse who at times has looked like a turf star.

Then most recently, Cannonball ran third behind the Pletcher-trained duo of Why Tonto and Cowboy Cal in Gulfstream's Hallandale Beach Stakes, an ungraded race, but one that drew the drew the same top finishers as the Tropical Park Derby.

Cannonball has reportedly trained well since the Feb. 16 race, breezing Monday at Palm Beach Downs.

"It was the best work he's ever had," said trainer Wesley Ward of the Monday drill. "He went a half in 48 and 4 and that was going as slow as he can on the turf."

With Cannonball lacking experience on Polytrack, the surface in place at Turfway, I would expect bettors to focus their attention more on those who have raced over the synthetic surface. Racecar Rhapsody, Turf War, and Halo Najib are prominent horses that have won over Polytrack, and with those lines clear to all in the past performances, they are likely to attract attention.

Cannonball has the pedigree of a horse that should excel over the Turfway strip. He is a son of Catienus, whose offspring have performed extremely well over synthetic tracks, particularly Polytrack.

Recent examples include Nolan's Cat, a Feb. 29 allowance winner at Turfway, and Self Made Man, who won the Feb. 16 Dust Commander at Turfway before running second in the March 15 Tejano Run.

Cannonball is reminiscent of Unspoken Word, who after racing mostly on turf last year finished second at 8-1 odds behind Dearest Trickski in the Grade 1 La Brea on Dec. 26 over the synthetic Cushion Track at Santa Anita.

Hopefully, Cannonball will run similarly well, but will take the top prize rather than second place. Provided there aren't any scratches from the Lane's End field, I expect him to drift up from this morning line odds of 9-2 and prove a force at a price.

Bourbonette: Maren's Meadow worth a shot

Two races earlier on the Turfway card, A to the Croft and Clearly Foxy - two horses exiting the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies - are the headliners in the Bourbonette.

Both are classy horses, but coming off layoffs dating back to late October, they are likely being trained to peak a race or two later in races with larger prizes. So I will try to beat them with Maren's Meadow, who has raced throughout the winter, winning a race at Fair Grounds and recently finishing second in the one-mile Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn.

Running two turns for the first time, Maren's Meadow was a bit overeager early, running a quarter-mile in 22.66 seconds. She then relaxed down the backstretch and showed plenty of fight to hold on for second, beaten a length by Sky Mom, subsequent winner of the $200,000 WinStar Oaks at Sunland Park on March 16.

Maren's Meadow should improve in her second trip around two turns. And if she takes to the Polytrack in her first attempt over the surface, she could prove tough to catch.