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Matera Sky

After Japanese success in British and Australian Group 1s of late, can a Breeders’ Cup coup be next? Matera Sky is a tough read because of his low-key preps, but his bang-up second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) on Dubai World Cup night makes him a player at his best.

By 2004 Breeders’ Cup Sprint hero Speightstown, the $350,000 Keeneland September yearling is a half-brother to three far-flung stakes performers – Nawwaar (in the UAE), Raagheb (at Sunland Park), and Murillo (Group 2-placed as a juvenile at Royal Ascot and the Curragh). This is the family of multiple Group 1-winning highweight Bahri, descended from Irish champion Highest Trump, also the ancestress of Ajina and Quality Road.

Matera Sky’s trainer, Hideyuki Mori, prepared top turf sprinters Agnes World and Seeking the Pearl to lift European majors about two decades ago. Agnes World also tried this race, winding up eighth behind Kona Gold in 2000, but that was before there was a Turf Sprint option.

Matera Sky, on the other hand, is a true dirt horse who’s been unplaced in both of his turf tries. Although a winner second time out at two, and again early in his three-year-old campaign, the chestnut didn’t really take off until he turned four in 2018.

Matera Sky at Santa Anita 2019
Matera Sky (Horsephotos.com)

Following an allowance score at Nakayama and a particularly convincing wire job at Kyoto, Matera Sky made an ambitious trek to Dubai for the 2018 Golden Shaheen. It was a bridge too far at that stage, but he wasn’t disgraced when chasing the pace early and fading to fifth.

Matera Sky was better than ever upon his comeback that summer in Japan, dominating on the front end at Hanshin and in the Procyon (G3) at Chukyo. In that first graded victory, he proved his effectiveness at about seven furlongs by blazing in a track-record 1:20.3.

While he hasn’t won since, Matera Sky has twice gone close – both times in his major targets suggesting that Mori is building him up toward a big day. At this time last fall, he almost wired the JBC Sprint (a local Grade 1), only to be worn down late by Graceful Leap.

Matera Sky’s next two unplaced efforts didn’t advertise his merits ahead of his second trip to the Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 30. But again he moved forward and turned in a career-best piece of form. In high gear early to attend the brilliant X Y Jet, he hung tough down the stretch to maintain runner-up honors from Breeders’ Cup rival Imperial Hint.

Unplaced in his two interim starts, Matera Sky led to deep stretch in his Procyon title defense before being swamped late in fifth, and he posted a similar effort when seventh in the September 8 Centaur (G2) – on turf. That curious placement implies that Mori saw the Centaur as the best prep for Santa Anita. The timing might be the key, giving similar spacing as he had going into this year’s Shaheen.

As a forward type in a race with fierce speed, Matera Sky probably won’t be able to dictate, but he could box on for a piece of the purse at attractive Breeders’ Cup odds.