Lemon Pop back in business with Sakitama Hai success


Lemon Pop bounced back from his Saudi Cup defeat as he comfortably won the NAR G1 Sakitama Hai at Urawa, Japan, on Wednesday, 19 June.

The six-year-old was crowed Japan’s Champion Dirt Horse for 2023 following victories in the G1 February Stakes, NAR G1 Mile Championship Nambu Hai and G1 Champions Cup, but could only finish 12th on his seasonal return at Riyadh in February.

Having shown good early speed in the seven-furlong contest, Lemon Pop soon raced in a length second on the outside of Alain Barows before cruising into a clear lead at the halfway point.

Lemon Pop found plenty for Ryusei Sakai in the straight, with the Hiroyasu Tanaka-trained son of Lemon Drop Kid seeing off the late challenges of Igniter and Shamal for a two-length success.  

Harry Sweeney, President of Godolphin in Japan, said: “We are delighted that Lemon Pop has again proved his ability on dirt. He has now run four times in G1 races in Japan and has won them all. In truth, we are also relieved – when a decision is made to keep a Champion in training at six years of age, it is important to add to his curriculum vitae and that was achieved today as he has now added a top tier win at seven furlongs to his previous scores at eight and nine.

“Urawa is a tight and tricky track, and we were much less confident than his starting odds of 1/5 would suggest.

“Lemon Pop will definitely be joining our stallion roster next year but may run once or twice again this year. It is early days yet, but it would seem logical for him to defend his title in the G1 Mile Championship Nambu Hai in the autumn. In the immediate aftermath of the race, Tanaka trainer mooted the Breeders’ Cup Mile, but I’m not fully convinced as Lemon Pop may be like Guinness beer – brilliant at home but doesn’t travel well.

“Today we said a final goodbye to a valued member of our training team, Kaz Nabeta, who died suddenly last week. Today’s win is for him.”