By Sam Turner -
Connections of Lemon Pop are eyeing a return trip to Dubai after witnessing the five-year-old confirm his status as Japan’s leading dirt horse with an impressive victory in the Group 1 Champions Cup at Chukyo. Ridden by Ryusei Sakai, the son of Lemon Drop Kid was tackling 1800m for the first time and looked to have a tricky task adopting front-running tactics from stall 15. However, Sakai navigated a passage to the front leaving the gates and built an advantage down the back straight.
Turning for home, Lemon Pop was asked to lengthen and soon had his rivals under pressure, so much so that his rider could take things easy as the line approached to record a comfortable length-and-a-quarter verdict over Wilson Tesoro for trainer Hiroyasu Tanaka.
Lemon Pop had already captured the only other top-level dirt contest in Japan, the February Stakes at Tokyo, in addition to landing the local Group 1 Mile Championship Nambu Hai on the NAR circuit by a distance in October. Although only 10th when beaten just over six lengths in last year’s Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen behind Sibelius, this victory over 1800m clearly opens up new options for the likeable entire who could have a choice of future targets in the Middle East post-Christmas.
CHRISTMAS COMES EARLY FOR GODOLPHIN
Harry Sweeney, President of Godolphin in Japan, said: “Christmas has come early for us in Japan! And indeed if Santa Claus doesn’t turn up, we won’t be upset! “Lemon Pop was awesome – 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 travelling very well while everyone else was hard at work. “Lemon Pop looked really well in the paddock before the race and had been training well with a perfect preparation. Kudos to the trainer and his team for an excellent job. Lemon Pop spent the summer in our Castle Park training centre in Hokkaido and our team did a brilliant job there to return him in peak condition for his autumn/winter campaign.
“Though five years old, he is relatively lightly raced and over four seasons has only run 14 times. As he is in great form, we are hoping to keep him in training for another year and will be considering the Group 1 Saudi Cup before hopefully going back to Dubai in March.”