02/24/2009 1:00AM

Cannonball looking ready for his return


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Rain or shine, owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey appear to be in a sweet spot when it comes to Thursday's $50,000 allowance feature at Gulfstream Park.

If it rains and the five-furlong dash comes off the grass, the Ramseys will send out the multiple Grade 1-placed Talent Search as the odds-on favorite. But seeing as how it hasn't rained in south Florida recently, they will likely have to settle for running the multiple turf-stakes winner Cannonball instead.

Cannonball would be making his first start since finishing third as the 3-5 favorite in Saratoga's 1 1/16-mile New York Stallion Stakes on Aug. 6. Yet despite the long layoff, trainer Wesley Ward said he couldn't be any more confident about his horse's chances in his 2009 debut.

"He's coming out of his skin, he's training so well right now," said Ward. "He's never trained better in his whole life. He had some feet issues, which is why we gave him the time off, but I think five furlongs is really what he wants to do, and as good as he is right now, I don't think he can be beat."

Cannonball has had most of his success around two turns, although he did win the Pebo Guy Stakes for New York-breds going six furlongs last May at Belmont Park. He has posted five works over the local turf course, the last two earning bullets as the fastest of the morning.

Eight were entered for Thursday's headliner, but no more than six will go, with both Talent Search and Knight's Cross designated as main-track only. In addition, Coach Jimi Lee has started just once since December 2007 and has never run on grass, so his status may also be in question if the race remains on the turf.

Cannonball's competition will include Hellvelyn, a beaten favorite in each of his three previous starts in the United States; turf-stakes winner Run Sully Run; the stakes-placed Our Friend Harvey; and multiple synthetic-track stakes winner Piratesonthelake, who is Coach Jimi Lee's uncoupled stablemate.

Hellvelyn will be turning back to five furlongs for the first time since winning a listed stakes in his native England during the summer of 2007. He finished a close third in Saratoga's Quick Call Stakes in his U.S. bow but has finished off the board in two subsequent starts, including a high-priced optional claiming event at a mile here last month.