Cannonball flops as Nicconi scores

Cannonball failed to fire at Flemington on Saturday as the first American-trained horse to run in Australia finished ninth of 11 in the Group 1, $450,000 Lightning Stakes, a five-furlong sprint that was taken by the Royal Ascot-bound Nicconi.

Patrick Valenzuela never got 20-1 Cannonball into a contending position as the Wesley Ward trainee was outsprinted to the line, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by the Damien Oliver-ridden Nicconi, who covered the distance in 57.12 seconds on good ground. Wanted was a head behind in second with Shellscrape third and 5-2 favorite Starspangledbanner fourth, 1 1/4 lengths behind. Purchased by Michael Tabor on Friday for $9 million, Caulfield Guineas winner Starspangledbanner is expected to be turned over to Aidan O'Brien in the near future.

A Bianconi half-brother to five-time Australian Group 1 winner Niconero, the 4-1 Nicconi was called "the best sprinter I have ever trained" by trainer David Hayes after the race. Only ninth in his last start on Nov. 7 in the Group 1 Patinack Farm Classic, Nicconi had previously won the five-furlong, Group 3 MacEwen Stakes at Mooney Valley and the six-furlong, Group 1 Galaxy Handicap at Randwick. He will be aimed at the six-furlong Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan on Dubai World Cup night, March 27, but his main objective this year will be the five-furlong King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

Lightning Stakes winners have fared famously well in the King's Stand, four of them having pulled off the intercontinental double in the last seven years. They are Choisir (2003), Takeover Target (2006), Miss Andretti (2007), and Scenic Blast (2009). The Lightning and the King's Stand are the first two legs of the Global Sprint Challenge, which awards a $1 million bonus to any horse who wins three legs of the series in three different countries.