Lemon Pop highlights zest for dirt with breakthrough G1 in February Stakes
Lemon Pop secured a significant first G1 victory with an emphatic success in the February Stakes at Tokyo on Sunday, 19 February.
The Lemon Drop Kid entire had already established himself as one of Japan’s most exciting dirt horses and was making his top-level debut having won seven of his 10 starts, including a half-length verdict in the G3 Negishi Stakes on his latest appearance.
After showing good speed from the gates, Lemon Pop briefly led before tracking the leaders in sixth as Shonan Nadeshiko cut out the running in the mile highlight.
Ryusei Sakai steered a four-wide path on Lemon Pop turning in and the Hiroyasu Tanaka-trained five-year-old cruised up on the bridle to challenge Shonan Nadeshiko, Keiai Turquoise and Helios for the lead over a furlong and a half from home.
Lemon Pop streaked clear soon after, with Red Le Zele launching a late bid inside the final furlong. The dual Dubai Golden Shaheen runner-up could not get near Lemon Pop, who held on well to score by a length and a half.
Harry Sweeney, President of Godolphin in Japan, said: “We are both thrilled and relieved. Thrilled that Lemon Pop has won a G1 race at his first attempt and won in good style. After his first two races, we were convinced of his ability and believed him to be a G1 horse, but some slight soundness issues intervened which kept him off the track for a year. Kudos to our veterinary and training teams for giving him all the time he needed.
“We are relieved that he now has a JRA G1 on his curriculum vitae which will be very important for his next career whenever he finishes racing. There are in fact only two G1 races on dirt in the entire JRA calendar and the second of these is over 1,800 metres, which would absolutely be too far for Lemon Pop. Indeed, we needed to lean significantly on Lemon Pop’s trainer, Tanaka san, to get him to run over a mile in this race so hence another reason for us to be relieved.
“We had some unexpected drama leading up to race too and were shocked to read in the sports papers just two weeks ago that Keita Tosaki, who had ridden Lemon Pop in all of his previous seven wins including the G3 Negishi Stakes just three weeks ago, had decided to get off Lemon Pop to ride another horse. We then had to scramble to find a replacement and we are delighted with Sakai san’s performance today. It was a pressure ride for him too as he was riding Lemon Pop, the favourite, for the first time and in a G1 race.
“Lemon Pop has been invited to Dubai but we won’t be making a decision on this for some time yet.”