12/27/2005 12:00AM

Lake welcomes back 'Matt'

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Sprints on Aqueduct's inner dirt track don't come much tougher than Thursday's featured eighth race, a $49,000 dash with third-level allowance conditions and an optional claiming price of $75,000.

The nine sprinters entered have combined for 56 wins and earnings approaching $2.5 million. The field will be reduced by at least one, because the Richard Dutrow-trained entry of shippers Silver Gun and Call the Lord both have Mike Luzzi named to ride, so one must be scratched.

Among the four stakes winners in the lineup, the most accomplished is My Cousin Matt, who would surpass the $900,000 mark in earnings with a win or a second-place finish.

My Cousin Matt spent the past several months running at Woodbine without much success. He will turn 7 on New Year's Day and has won just once from his last 18 starts, but he has a history of running well in cold weather, notably a victory over a sloppy track in the 2003 General George Handicap earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 114 for trainer Scott Lake.

Thursday, My Cousin Matt runs for Lake for the first time since 2004, and the forecast calls for unseasonably warm temperatures and a good chance of rain.

A wet track might also help several others in the field, among them Call the Lord, Maddy's Lion, and Ojibway.

Call the Lord and Maddy's Lion, the lone 3-year-olds in the field, each showed some quality earlier this year by winning minor stakes in the mud, but neither has run recently. Call the Lord has not been out since wiring the Hansel Stakes in the mud at Turfway Park eight months ago. Maddy's Lion, the front-running winner of the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes on a muddy inner track last winter, has been idle since finishing next-to-last in the Amsterdam at Saratoga.

Ojibway returned from a seven-month layoff on the final day of racing on the main track, rallying to finish third and was claimed for $50,000 by trainer Dominic Galluscio.

"That race under his belt had to help him and he's training very well," said Galluscio. "I think he will be closer to the pace."

Ojibway won three sprints on the inner track last winter.

Also in the field are Ameri Brilliance, a stakes winner at Mountaineer Race Track in 2004; Red Crusader, who steps up off an allowance win opening day on the inner track; Blue Skies Ahead, a three-time winner on the inner; and Gambling Native, who won twice here last winter.