01/28/2010 12:00AM

Cannonball will make history in Australia

Barbara D. Livingston
The Wesley Ward-trained Cannonball, who has run at Royal Ascot and in Hong Kong, will become the first American-trained horse to run in Australia when he goes in the Group 1 Lightning Stakes at Flemington on Saturday.

Cannonball will make history as the first American-trained horse to run in Australia on Saturday when he lines up for the $450,000 Lightning Stakes, a five-furlong Group 1 sprint at Flemington that serves as the first leg of the Global Sprint Challenge.

The bold excursion is another in the globetrotting plans of Cannonball's trainer, Wesley Ward, who became the first American to saddle the winner of a flat race in Britain last June at Royal Ascot. He sent out two winners there, Strike the Tiger and Jealous Again, in addition to engineering Cannonball to a second-place finish in the Golden Jubilee Stakes and a sixth in the King's Stand Stakes.

Cannonball, who has been in Melbourne for a month, will be ridden for the first time by Patrick Valenzuela, who was granted a license from Racing Victoria officials on Wednesday despite his long history of substance abuse. Valenzuela replaces Ramon Dominguez, who rode the 5-year-old Cannonball in his last three starts - a win in Saratoga's Commentator Stakes, a third in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita, and a 10th in the Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin.

Cannonball has been under the supervision of Ward's assistant Declan Murphy at Flemington. On Monday he recorded a time of 22.68 seconds for a quarter-mile work, the fastest move of seven Lightning Stakes entries. The race will start on Flemington's wide, sweeping, left-hand turn, which empties into a 2 1/2-furlong stretch.

"Five furlongs isn't really his best distance," Ward said from south Florida. "Six or 6 1/2 is really a better distance for him."

Cannonball could be challenged by as many as 14 local rivals in the Lightning, which was to be drawn late on Wednesday. Among his most prominent expected challengers are Lucky Secret, the winner of three Group 2 sprints in the last 15 months; Starspangledbanner, who won the one-mile Caulfield Guineas on Oct. 10; and Burdekin Blues, who has won five sprints in a row, among them the six-furlong, Group 3 George Moore Stakes at Doomben.

The Global Sprint Challenge is an eight-race series that includes three races Cannonball ran in last year - the King's Stand, the Golden Jubilee and the Hong Kong Sprint - as well as the July Cup at Newmarket, the Centaur Stakes and the Sprinters Stakes in Japan, and the Patinack Farm Classic back at Flemington in November. Any horses that wins three of those races in three different countries will earn a bonus of $1 million.

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch