By Alan Carasso
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES — Answer: The G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen.
Question: What is the only race in the history of the Dubai World Cup that has never been won by the host?
That statement feels like an enormous anomaly, given all the success down the years at old Nad Al Sheba Racecourse and here at Meydan Racecourse, but true it is all the same. It is a record that Harry Sweeney, the president of the Japanese arm of Sheikh Mohammed's global operation, hopes will change this weekend when American-bred and -sourced Lemon Pop (Lemon Drop Kid) takes on five U.S.-based sprinters and significant Japanese-bred challenge in the 1200-meter race.
Moments after the clean chestnut, bred in the names of former Darley executive Olly Tait and his wife, completed some light work under the early-morning lights at Meydan Wednesday, Sweeney graciously took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk about the acquisition of Lemon Pop, his rise to Group 1 winner and what the future may hold.
Alan Carasso: First of all, how has Lemon Pop come out of his victory in the G1 February S.?
Harry Sweeney: Yeah, he's come out well. It's a five-week gap, which we thought was reasonable, between the February S. and this race. He's a 5-year-old, but he's still very lightly raced. He's only raced 11 times. But I watched him warm up down there [in the 1600-meter chute] this morning. He's not at times the most fluent of movers, but he's moving well now. So I'm very pleased with that. The trainer seemed happy with him. He traveled reasonably well, a little bit off his food for the first few days, but he's back to grubbing. He's a big strong horse and he moved well this morning, so I'd say he's good.
AC: When did Lemon Pop arrive here into Dubai?
HS: He got in here last Tuesday, I believe. Tuesday of last week.
AC: Under the Paca Paca Farm banner, you guys selected him as a weanling at Keeneland ($70,000 in November 2018), and I know you guys tend to do that, pick them up as foals. What's the philosophy of buying them at that young age?
HS: Well, the reason is it's a model of logistics really, because, I mean, I'm buying these for Japan and of course if we buy in the yearling market, then it's pretty congested already with Godolphin people. We have the UK Godolphin team buying and also Shadwell buying when they were buying a lot of horses.
So we're the 'small boy' in the organization. So there was a lot of congestion in that area and it was just easier to buy them as foals, really, and to avoid that.
AC: And where do these types of purchases go after you buy them?
HS: He came to Japan, Lemon Pop was bought in November and he came straight to Japan, and so he spent his yearling year in Japan, on the farm.
AC: What was it about him that attracted you at Keeneland?
LEMON POP @godolphin in the house!#DWC23 pic.twitter.com/fQkdN3cArS
— Dubai Racing Club (@RacingDubai) March 18, 2023
HS: Well, if I'm perfectly honest, I mean, I probably short-listed him on the basis that I thought he might run on turf. Lemon Drop Kid can get a few decent turf runners and the mare being by Giant's Causeway, I thought there's a chance this horse might run on turf. So I'd say that's the reason that I looked at him in the first place.
But when I did look at him, I mean, physically he's a very, very well-balanced, well-proportioned horse. I mean, I really, really like that about him. He was an average mover, but I thought he was just a very, very well-balanced horse. And that's the reason I bought him.
AC: Like you pointed out, he's only made the 11 starts but for eight wins and over $2.2 million in earnings. He's a 5-year-old now. Were there any serious issues, or just little niggling issues that kept him from stringing starts together?
HS: Yeah. Well, after he won–I think–his second start, I mean, he showed enormous talent initially. Even at the second start, we were already clear that this horse had the ability and we already had kind of marked him down as a Group 1 horse, maybe not a Group 1 winner, but a Group 1 horse. And we were considering and coming even to we kind of planning, really hoping, to come to the [G2] UAE Derby [in 2021]. But then fate intervened, hit a small issue. We took numerous X-rays and we had four different veterinary opinions, all different, the most expensive veterinary opinions in the world. He had what looked like a little bit of fracture line there. We were just a bit worried in the end and we opted to be conservative and so we gave him time off, which was probably the right decision. Because listen, we were aware of that ability and we didn't want to compromise that. We were happy to wait.
AC: Coming here, you had a choice between whether to stay at the mile [for the G2 Godolphin Mile] or cut back in trip for the Dubai Golden Shaheen. What ultimately led to the decision to keep him short?
HS: Firstly, the trainer always believes this horse is a sprinter. And even when we ran in the February S. over a mile, the trainer really wasn't that enthusiastic about him, to be honest. We had to kind of lean on him to even run in the February S., but I mean these decisions are made for us. There are only two Group1 races on dirt on the JRA [circuit]. So, where do you go if you have a horse of this caliber? You have little option, you must go there. And to be honest, we're thinking of his next career when he finishes as a stallion. I mean, he's already secured his place. It was important to win a Group 1 in Japan. And so that's why we went there. Okay. Now the reverse is true. That's why we're here as well. Where else would he go in Japan? The next Group 1 in the JRA on dirt is [the1800-meter G1 Champions Cup in December} and the trainer also wants to sprint. In fact, it was the trainer's preference initially to come here and avoid the February S., not even to run there.
So we'll see how he goes. It's a bit of an ask because he he's never run over six furlongs [Ed's Note: Lemon Pop broke his maiden at first asking going 1300 meters or 6 1/2 furlongs]. So that's a first for him. Equally, running on this type of dirt surface with the kickback, we're not sure about that. We have a young jockey aboard. The trainer is traveling his first horse abroad. We're all rookies here. It's a bit of an ask, but we feel there's little to be lost. To be honest, I vacillated between going for this or the Mile. We did it give it real consideration. I think when [champion and GI Breeders' Cup Sprint hero] Elite Power came out of the sprint and when we had a feeling that he wasn't going to come, that changed us. When he was in, we were going to go for the other race. So they were part of the reasons and the trainer's belief as well. He's a sprinter. Let's see how he goes.
AC: My next question sort of dovettails off of that. If he's not going to stretch out to nine furlongs, if he is not a horse for the Champion's Cup, what is there for him left at home? Any thoughts of sending him to the States?
HS: The February S. is a 'Win and You're In' race for the Breeders' Cup, the Classic, and I think we might be able to use it for a different race. I'd say we're not ruling out. These decisions might be much easier to make on Sunday, but we're not ruling it out. But he'll go back to Japan, we're going to give him a spell. He'll go to the farm straight away after the race one way or the other. There is a race called the JBC Sprint in Japan [Nov. 3], which is a local Japan Group 1 race. But even though it doesn't have international graded status, it's a big race in Japan and it's an extremely competitive race. And that's a six-furlong sprint. I wouldn't rule out a run in the Champions Cup either. We're ambitious in Japan. We have little to be restricted about it.
AC: And finally, How does it feel to have one of yours run here in front of the boss?
HS: Oh, that's very important. And listen, we hope he runs well and if he runs well, we'd be pleased. The boss is a true internationalist. And it's fashionable, so it would be nice to have. And this is the only race that Godolphin have never won, so it would be nice to tick that box.
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