April 20, 2024

Godolphin’s Lemon Pop drubs opposition in Mile Championship Nambu Hai

Lemon Pop distanced his foes in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai (Photo by Tomoya Moriuchi /Horsephotos.com)

Godolphin already has defending champion Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), but their Japanese-based star Lemon Pop put himself into the discussion with a breathtaking display in Monday’s Mile Championship Nambu Hai at Morioka. Jockey Ryusei Sakai was apparently putting in a word for Santa Anita, according to godolphin.com.

Hero of the February (G1) that serves as a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Lemon Pop was never going to entertain stretching out to 1 1/4 miles. Indeed, trainer Hiroyasu Tanaka actually preferred shortening up from the February’s metric mile to about six furlongs for the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) on World Cup night, when he wound up a totally uncharacteristic 10th.

According to the stewards’ report on the Emirates Racing Authority website, “a post-race veterinary examination revealed the colt not to be striding freely.” At least there was some reason for the only poor result of Lemon Pop’s life; he’d never been worse than second at home.

Given plenty of time to regroup from his Mideast venture, Lemon Pop resumed from his six-month holiday in Monday’s feature. The son of Lemon Drop Kid was sent off as the favorite against a couple of high-class rivals – Japan’s champion dirt horse Cafe Pharoah, a two-time February winner as well as the hero of last year’s Mile Championship Nambu Hai, and Geoglyph, a classic winner on turf. Cafe Pharoah and Geoglyph were a close third and fourth, respectively, in the Feb. 25 Saudi Cup (G1) before regressing in the Dubai World Cup (G1).

While those two failed to land a blow at Morioka, Lemon Pop uncorked a monstrous performance, winning by so large a margin that it’s simply listed as a “distance.” The chestnut has stalked in the past, but Sakai let him stride forward here, and he opened up on the far turn. Widening down the lane, Lemon Pop powered his final 600 meters (about three furlongs) in :34.7 to finish in 1:33.8 on the good track.

A full two seconds behind came runner-up Igniter, who had been stalking in second. Cafe Pharoah faded to fifth, and Geoglyph retreated to ninth in the 14-horse field.

“It’s impossible to be anything other than thrilled with a performance like that,” Harry Sweeney, President of Godolphin in Japan, told godolphin.com. “Lemon Pop was outstanding today. We hadn’t really expected him to make the running and there was a very audible murmur from the crowd as he took the lead, somewhat in disbelief. The jockey rode a brilliant race and pulled away easily to win very, very comfortably at the finish.”

Lemon Pop now boasts a record of 13-9-3-0, including the 2020 Cattleya S., a conditions race on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby. He unfortunately headed to the sidelines for a year, but began to make up for lost time with a four-race winning spree as a four-year-old. Just denied in last November’s Musashino (G3), he earned his first stakes victory in the Jan. 29 Negishi (G3) en route to the February.

Bigger targets now beckon, with the main question being whether they’re solely domestic, or international. The Dec. 3 Champions Cup (G1) at Chukyo appears to be the key factor in guiding the discussions.

“The next options have not been decided,” Sweeney noted, “and Lemon Pop effectively has three choices, one of which is the JBC Sprint over six furlongs at the beginning of November. He is also qualified to run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita, which the jockey was angling towards after the race. The third option is the Champions Cup at the beginning of December, which is over nine furlongs.

“Lemon Pop’s trainer was never really in favor of running him over a mile, even though he has now won two top competitions over the distance, and he certainly showed today that he has no problem with the trip.

“Certainly, we will be looking at the Champions Cup, with one run beforehand. We will be discussing it intently over the next few days.”