Lemon Pop Defies Doubters, History In Champions Cup

Lemon Pop | Horsephotos


In the G1 Champions Cup, one of two elite-level races on dirt on the JRA circuit, wide barriers are almost always the kiss of death.

Drawn 15 of 15 for Sunday's 1800-metre event, Godolphin's Lemon Pop (Lemon Drop Kid) not only had that to overcome, but also lingering questions as to his ability to stay a trip this far. After all, his trainer Hiroyasu Tanaka needed some convincing by the Godolphin braintrust to try him in the G1 February S., a 1600-metre affair, which he duly won with something in the locker.

A trip to Dubai was ultimately decided upon, the G1 Golden Shaheen (1200m) versus the G2 Godolphin Mile. Lemon Pop was ultimately no factor, but even as many as eight months ago, Godolphin Japan President Harry Sweeney mentioned the Champions Cup as a potential target in a Q&A with this reporter ahead of World Cup night. That brand of outside-the-box thinking paid off handsomely Sunday afternoon at Chukyo Racecourse, as Lemon Pop became the fourth horse to win both JRA Group 1 dirt races in the same calendar year.

Favoured–albeit midly so at $3.80 (14-5)–Lemon Pop broke a bit to his right, but very alertly, and managed to show enough speed to come across the entire field and lead out from this year's G2 UAE Derby runner-up Dura Erede (Jpn) (Duramente {Jpn}) with 2021 winner T O Keynes (Jpn) (Sinister Minister) enjoying the gun run from third.

Lemon Pop had done some work to get there, having clocked :23.5 for the opening 400 metres, but he came back to Ryusei Sakai and got the opening 800m in :48.8, with Dura Erede keeping him honest. Traveling nicely within himself with his jockey sitting against him–similar to his win in the February–Lemon Pop was clear into the straight, pinched what appeared to be a winning break and was home comfortably first as Wilson Tesoro (Jpn) (Kitasan Black {Jpn}) jumped out of the ground for second at rough odds. Dura Erede settled for a creditable third. Multiple international group winner Crown Pride (Jpn) (Reach the Crown {Jpn}) was disappointing in 11th with a bit of a wide trip, while the previously unbeaten Seraphic Call (Jpn) (Henny Hughes) finished 10th.

“Christmas has come early for us in Japan! And indeed if Santa Claus doesn't turn up in three weeks' time, we won't be too upset,” Sweeney said on the Godolphin website. “Lemon Pop was awesome today–there can be no denying that. No horse drawn in the outside three stalls has even made the frame in the last decade, so Lemon Pop needed to overcome the obstacle of the widest draw of all. Also, doing it from the front is probably not the easiest way to win a Group 1, but he had little alternative because of the draw and it was another excellent ride for Ryusei Sakai. In truth, he looked all over the winner when turning in–he was still traveling very well while everyone else was hard at work.”

In the aforementioned Q&A, Sweeney spoke of the honour of bringing a Godolphin-owned Japanese-based runner to Dubai to race before His Highness Sheikh Mohammed. A similar plan was in the works in 2021, when Lemon Pop was an intended runner in the UAE Derby, having won the 2020 Cattleya Sho on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. But the injury bug bit, dashing those plans. His victory Sunday opens a few more doors as the calendar turns to 2024.

“Though five years old, he is relatively lightly raced and over four seasons has only run a total of 14 times,” Sweeney said. “As he is in great form, we are hoping to keep him in training for another year and will be considering the G1 Saudi Cup before hopefully going back to Dubai in March.”

A horse that has passed every test that's been set for him, Lemon Drop would have to be considered a major player in Riyadh and/or at Meydan.


Pedigree Notes:

On behalf of former Darley executive Olly Tait and his wife, Blandford Bloodstock went to 165,000gns for Unreachable from the Juddmonte draft at the 2012 Tattersalls December Mares Sale. Unreachable is a daughter of Harpia, a full-sister to the highly influential Danehill as well as Eagle Eyed and Shibboleth, etc., and is a half-sister to the stakes-placed First Word (Chester House) and Redesdale (Speightstown). This is also the family of Dundonnell (First Defence), a Group 3 winner in England, a listed winner in Hong Kong and Group 3-placed in Dubai.

Unreachable was offered in foal to Good Magic at the 2020 Keeneland January Sale and was led out unsold on a bid of $55,000, but Chad Schumer acquired the mare privately for $50,000 on behalf of Jay and Christine Hayden's Saintsbury Farms. Schumer also purchased Redesdale for $18,000 at the 2016 January Sale and he now stands at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds in the state of New York. The colt Unreachable was carrying at the time of her acquisition–an Ontario-bred 3-year-old now named Equivoque–would go on to fetch $325,000 from China Horse Club/Gandharvi at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale and CHC bought out the partnership for $240,000 at the 2022 Keeneland November Horses of Racing Age Sale. Equivoque, an impressive debut winner at Keeneland this past April and an allowance second at Churchill on Derby Day May 6, has recently returned to training at Todd Pletcher's South Florida base at Palm Beach Downs after spending some time at WinStar Farm .

Unreachable is also the dam of the 2-year-old colt Magic Rush (Good Magic) and a yearling colt by Maclean's Music that sold for $310,000 to Powerstown Stud at this year's Keeneland September sale. Unreachable, now 14 years of age, did not produce a foal this year and was bred back to Curlin.

Sunday, Chukyo, Japan
CHAMPIONS CUP-G1, ¥232,740,000, Chukyo, 12-3, 3yo/up, 1800m, 1:50.60, ft.
1–LEMON POP, 128, h, 5, by Lemon Drop Kid
1st Dam: Unreachable, by Giant's Causeway
2nd Dam: Harpia, by Danzig
3rd Dam: Razyana, by His Majesty
($70,000 Wlg '18 KEENOV). O-Godolphin; B-Mr & Mrs Oliver S Tait (KY); T-Hiroyasu Tanaka; J-Ryusei Sakai; ¥123,318,000. Lifetime Record: 14-10-3-0, ¥481,756,000. Werk Nick Rating: A+++ *Triple Plus* Click for the eNicks report & 5-cross pedigree. Click for the free Equineline.com catalogue-style pedigree.
2–Wilson Tesoro (Jpn), 128, c, 4, Kitasan Black (Jpn)–Chesutoke Rose, by Uncle Mo. O-Kenji Ryotokuji Holdings; B-Ryoken Farm; ¥48,948,000.
3–Dura Erede (Jpn), 126, c, 3, Duramente (Jpn)–Marchesa (Jpn), by Orfevre (Jpn). (¥100,000,000 Ylg '21 JRHAJUL). O-Three H Racing; B-Northern Farm; ¥30,474,000.
Margins: 1 1/4, NK, NK. Odds: 2.80, 91.00, 30.20.
Also Ran: T O Keynes (Jpn), Meisho Hario (Jpn), Hagino Alegrias (Jpn), Make a Leap (Jpn), Notturno (Jpn), Ater Astrea (Jpn), Seraphic Call (Jpn), Crown Pride (Jpn), Keiai Shelby (Jpn), Gloria Mundi (Jpn), Icon Tailor (Jpn), Geoglyph (Jpn). Click for the JRA chart and VIDEO.

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