June 3, 2020

New York Central up in time in Saudia Sprint; Full Flat takes Saudi Derby

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)

Japan’s Matera Sky looked long gone in Saturday’s $1.5 million Saudia Sprint, until American import New York Central rolled late on Saudi Cup Day at King Abdulaziz Racecourse.

Making his first start for new Saudi connections – Prince Faisal bin Khaled bin Abdul Aziz and trainer Sami Al Harabi – the son of Tapit was patiently ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr. Enough North American bettors kept faith with the former Steve Asmussen trainee to bet him down from a 30-1 morning line to 10-1, and he rewarded them with a blistering kick.

Matera Sky, in contrast, was given an aggressive ride by Yutaka Take that almost panned out. The Hideyuki Mori charge grabbed the lead, seizing the initiative from the American speed Captain Scotty and 3-5 favorite Imperial Hint, and put on a front-running show. Widening to a seemingly insurmountable advantage in the stretch, he then began to shorten stride and look for the wire.

New York Central was the only rival able to take advantage of Matera Sky’s hitting the wall. Gaining ground fast, he was along in time to head him while completing 6 furlongs in 1:11.68.

Another American expat, Dubai-based Gladiator King, checked in a further 2 1/4 lengths back in third. Maypole, Mesquite, Drafted, Indelible Ink, Manguzi, Captain Scotty, Beau Warrior, Muhtaram, the surprisingly off-form Imperial Hint, and Sobre Action.

New York Central’s previous best came in the Maryland Sprint (G3) on 2019 Preakness Day. His only stakes placing was a second in the 2018 Pat Day Mile (G3) behind the 39-1 Funny Duck. After disappointing in last year’s John A. Nerud (G2), Frank J. De Francis Memorial (G3), and Bet on Sunshine at Churchill Downs, the gray was well bought for $240,000 at Keeneland November.

Matera Sky’s connections had celebrated a victory in the prior race, the $800,000 Samba Saudi Derby, courtesy of another Speightstown son in Full Flat. Dispatched at 14-1 after a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and a runner-up effort in a Kyoto allowance, Tsuyoshi Ono’s Full Flat was perched in a stalking position early, took command on the far turn, and opened up into the stretch. His final margin was 2 1/4 lengths in 1:37.91 for the metric mile.

Slow-starting British shipper Mishriff launched a sustained rally to grab second, rounding out the exacta for internationally based Triple Crown nominees. Godolphin’s filly Final Song held third. Asmussen’s Rowdy Yates closed from well back in fourth. Next came Mor’edah, pacesetter Rajee Allah, Peter Miller’s Billy Batts, Down on Day Bayou, Tamaari, Cherokee Trail, Lake Causeway, Malafekh, and the distanced 5-2 favorite Bella Fever. Hitherto unbeaten, Bella Fever had reared up badly and lost her balance prior to going into the gate.


The great Frankel was responsible for the exacta in the $2.5 million Longines Turf H., with French shipper Call the Wind driving to a 2 1/2-length victory over Mekong.

Trained by Freddie Head and ridden by Olivier Peslier, the George Strawbridge Jr. homebred bided his time back in the pack and steadily improved position on the inside. After Contango picked up the baton from fading early leader Dee Ex Bee, and 6-5 favorite Cross Counter loomed, Call the Wind deftly split them and drew clear. The high-class stayer negotiated about 1 7/8 miles in 3:11.19.

Mekong, slowly away, finished well down the outside in second. Prince of Arran boxed on for third, followed by Contango; Cross Counter, who stalled under joint top weight of 136 pounds; True Self; Twilight Payment; Hibou; Called to the Bar; co-highweight Dee Ex Bee; King’s Advice; Mafaaheem;  and Downdraft. Dramatic Device was pulled up after bolting on the first turn.

Call the Wind, unraced until he was a 4-year-old, landed the Prix du Cadran (G1) at the end of that 2018 season. Although winless since, he’d placed in a series of major staying prizes in 2019 including the Dubai Gold Cup (G2), Prix Vicomtess Vigier (G2), Prix Kergorlay (G2), the Cadran, and the Oct. 27 Prix Royal Oak (G1) when last seen. A return trip to Meydan for the Gold Cup on Dubai World Cup night is likely next.

Saudi Cup Day began with a pair of longshot winners representing Bahrain on the brand new turf course.

In the $1 million Mohamed Yousuf Naghi Motors Cup, the 43-1 Port Lions floored 2-5 favorite Deirdre in a dramatic photo. The erstwhile Irish handicapper has improved in leaps and bounds since joining Fawzi Abdullah Nass, capturing all three starts handily in Bahrain, but the Victorious colorbearer produced a career best in this much deeper spot.

Tardy at the start, Port Lions didn’t appear to be in a tactically favorable position considering the steady tempo set by For the Top, who almost stole the race. Deirdre picked up in time to catch For the Top, only to be collared herself by Port Lions. The favorite tried to fight back, but Port Lions kept his head in front. Under Adrie de Vries, the Kodiac gelding clocked 2:11.41 for about 1 5/16 miles.

For the Top was another half-length astern in third. Intellogent, Royal Youmzain, Mount Everest, Trais Fluors, and Imagen de Roma rounded out the order of finish.

The 27-1 upsetter of the $1 million 1351 Cup, Dark Power, brought a similar profile as a former British handicapper who’s thrived in Bahrain with Allan Smith. With Frankie Dettori aboard for Al Adiyat Racing, the Dark Angel gelding nabbed pacesetter Mubtasim by a head. The final time for the 1,351 meters (about 6 3/4 furlongs) was 1:19.63.

Glorious Journey, the 9-5 favorite, closed belatedly from his wide draw for third. Next came Speak in Colours; Suedois; Doug O’Neill’s Legends of War, who chased Mubtasim before tiring; Momkin; Ghoul from the Peter Miller barn; Larchmont Lad; Royal Intervention; Sir Dancealot; Holy Day; King Malpic; and Graignes.

Saudi Cup recap: Maximum Security shows maximum grit