Champion Lemon Pop Posts Poignant Comeback Success In Sakitama Hai

Lemon Pop | Horsephotos/Tomoya Moriuchi


Making his first start since finishing well down the field in the G1 Saudi Cup at the end of February, reigning Japanese champion dirt horse Lemon Pop (Lemon Drop Kid) resumed with a two-length victory in Wednesday's Listed Sakitama Hai at Urawa Racetrack about 20 miles north of Central Tokyo.

Crunched into $1.20 (1-5) favouritism, the $70,000 Keeneland November weanling acquisition was away without incident from barrier seven and was content to track pacesetting Alain Barows (Jpn) (Henny Hughes) through the early sections of the contest, run over a two-turn, 1400-metre configuration.

Sent into the lead with fully half the journey to cover, Lemon Pop pinched a bit of a break into the final two furlongs and plugged on gamely to hold off defending champion and third betting pick Igniter (Jpn) (Espoir City {Jpn})–a latest fifth in the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen–by two lengths. Second choice Shamal (Jpn) (Smart Falcon {Jpn}) was another half-length away in third.

“If he can get off to an even start, then he has the upper hand,” said winning jockey Ryusei Sakai. “I thought it would be best if he sit second, but I wasn't too concerned about the position. He handled the tight 1400m course without any problems.”

Winner of the G1 February Stakes last year, Lemon Pop faltered in the Golden Shaheen, but won the local G1 Mile Championship Nambu Hai by 10 lengths in October ahead of a pillar-to-post success from a terrible draw in the G1 Champions Cup (1800m). With that win, he earned a crack at the Saudi Cup, but he weakened from two furlongs out and was no factor.

The victory was especially meaningful to the Godolphin Japan team.

“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,” said Godolphin Japan President Harry Sweeney.

He continued: “Urawa is a tight and tricky track, and we were much less confident than his starting odds 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 Mile Championship Nambu Hai [at Morioka Oct. 14]. In the immediate aftermath of the race, Tanaka trainer mooted the [GI] Breeders' Cup [Dirt] Mile, but I'm not fully convinced, as Lemon Pop may be like Guinness beer–brilliant at home but doesn't travel well.”

Lemon Pop is one of four winners from six to the races for Unreachable, whose multiple graded-stakes winning dam Harpia is a full-sister to the legendary Danehill. The mare, who was acquired privately by Chad Schumer for $50,000 after she was led out unsold at Keeneland November in 2020, is also the dam of a 2-year-old Ontario-bred colt by Maclean's Music, who fetched $310,000 at Keeneland September last fall, but was bought back on a bid of €340,000 at this year's Arqana May Breeze-Up Sale.




Wednesday's Results:
SAKITAMA HAI (Jpn-G1)-Listed, ¥136,000,000 ($861,152/£676,328/€800,904), Urawa, 6-19, 3yo/up, 1400m, 1:26.7, my.
1–LEMON POP, 126, h, 6, Lemon Drop Kid–Unreachable, by Giant's Causeway. ($70,000 Wlg '18 KEENOV). O-Godolphin; B-Mr & Mrs Oliver S Tait (KY); T-Hiroyasu Tanaka; J-Ryusei Sakai; ¥80,000,000. Lifetime Record: Ch. Dirt Horse & MG1SW-Jpn, 16-11-3-0, $4,050,134.
2–Igniter (Jpn), 126, h, 6, Espoir City (Jpn)–Bianco (Jpn), by Warning (GB). (¥7,020,000 Ylg '19 HOKSUM). O-Yoshiki Noda; B-Haruki Farm; T-Masashi Atarashi; J-Tsubasa Sasagawa; ¥28,000,000.
3–Shamal (Jpn), 126, h, 6, Smart Falcon (Jpn)–Native Code (Jpn), by Agnes Digital. O-Toshiya Kanayama; B-Okada Stud; T-Takeshi Matsushita; J-Haruhiko Kawasu; ¥16,000,000.
Margins: 2, HF, NK. Odds 0.20, 9.60, 4.00.
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