December 11, 2023

New York Central, Matera Sky meet again in Saudia Sprint

New York Central catches Matera Sky
New York Central catches Matera Sky in the Saudia Sprint on Saudi Cup Day (Copyright Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia/Neville Hopwood)

One year after American expat New York Central nailed Matera Sky in the $1.5 million Saudia Sprint, the Japanese speedster tries to erase the memory of his heartbreak. And this time, he brings a couple of other contenders along with him from Japan.

Saudia Riyadh Dirt Sprint – Race 7 (11:50 a.m. ET)

New York Central, winner of the 2019 Maryland Sprint (G3) when trained by Steve Asmussen, made a memorable first start for new Saudi connections in this race. Matera Sky had looked long gone after running his rivals off their feet. But New York Central uncorked a dramatic late run from the clouds to catch a laboring Matera Sky in the shadow of the post. The son of Tapit has raced only twice since, both times at a metric mile. After capturing his Oct. 24 comeback, New York Central flattened out in fifth in the Jan. 23 Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cup.

Matera Sky has a habit of finishing runner-up in big sprints. Second in the 2019 Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) to X Y Jet, the Hideyuki Mori trainee has also settled for the place spot twice in the JBC Sprint, most recently on Nov. 3. But the son of Speightstown can still fire a bold shot, and his last win came in a record 1:08.5 in the about six-furlong Cluster Cup at Morioka Aug. 10.

Compatriots Copano Kicking and Justin were sixth and eighth, respectively, in the same JBC Sprint but are better than that. Justin garnered his Saudi invitation by rebounding last out in the Dec. 13 Capella (G3) at Nakayama. Trainer Yoshito Yahagi had entertained this race, however, long before Justin punched his ticket. Copano Kicking, a two-time Capella champ, did not attempt a three-peat, and like Matera Sky, enters straight off the JBC Sprint.

Switzerland hopes that the ex-Asmussen factor works in his favor as it did for New York Central. Also a Maryland Sprint hero, he added the Frank J. DeFrancis Memorial Dash (G3) in 2018 before setting up shop in Dubai. Yet in the 2019 and 2020 Carnivals, Switzerland couldn’t recover his old American form. A gelding operation in the offseason apparently helped, for in his first start for Satish Seemar, he promptly won the Jan. 21 Dubawi (G3).

July Cup (G1) star Oxted boasts the top form among the European shippers, but all on turf. The dirt is an unknown quantity, the trade-off that trainer Roger Teal made to stay at the about six-furlong trip, rather than step up in distance for the 1351 Turf Sprint. Oxted, a close fifth in the Oct. 17 British Champions Sprint (G1) when last seen, will also be racing around a turn for the first time. The Tom Dascombe-trained Brad the Brief comes off his first Group tally in the Oct. 31 Prix de Seine-et-Oise (G3), and all-weather maestro Harry’s Bar tuned up with a conditions win at Dundalk for Ado McGuiness.

The ex-British Roman River has found a new lease of life on the Bahrain turf, where he’s won two in a row and four of his last six. Trainer Allan Smith upset last year’s 1351 Turf Sprint with Dark Power, so perhaps Roman River is not to be underestimated on the surface switch. The Holy Roman Emperor gelding beat his famous stablemate in the BSC Cup last out on Christmas.

Aside from New York Central, the other locals are Maypole, fourth in last year’s running and exiting a second to Saudi Cup contender Great Scot in the King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Cup over a metric mile; Raucous, a grizzled British veteran with useful form on turf and all-weather; Raaed, 2-for-3 here, both going seven furlongs; and a pair of Saudi-breds, the consistent Faz Zae and lightly raced Rajee Allah, sixth in the 2020 Saudi Derby and not seen since his third in last March’s King Abdulaziz Cup.