Godolphin’s Lemon Pop Primed For Group 1 Success in February S.

Tokyo Racecourse plays host to the first of 24 Group 1s on the JRA circuit, Sunday’s February S. going a one-turn mile on the dirt track, and with the race’s two-time defending champion Cafe Pharoah (American Pharoah) preparing for next Saturday’s G1 Saudi Cup and with would-be favourite Gilded Mirror (Jpn) (Orfevre {Jpn}) having recently been retired due to injury, the race is there for the taking for the wonderfully consistent US-bred Lemon Pop (Lemon Drop Kid).

The 5-year-old, purchased for $70,000 as a weanling at the 2018 Keeneland November Sale, is a bona-fide horse for the course, as his only defeat in eight local appearances came at the hooves of Gilded Mirror in the G3 Musashino S. over the course and distance in November. He reversed form with the mare last time, taking the 1400-metre G3 Negishi S. by a half-length Jan. 29.

“Since last spring we’ve had the Negishi S. and then the February S. as the plan for him,” said assistant trainer Toshikiko Hokari. “He has good racing sense and obeys the jockey’s orders, so even with the extended distance, he should be able to get a good result.”

Not insignificantly, Keita Tosaki, who has piloted Lemon Pop to each of his victories, opts to stick with the 4-year-old Dry Stout (Jpn) (Sinister Minister). Winner of four of his six trips to the post, the dark bay took the second leg of the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby in late 2021 to make it three on the trot and exits a runner-up effort in the Listed Subaru S. over seven furlongs at Chukyo Jan. 7.

“He’s very sharp and his reactions have been good in training,” said Tosaki. “I’ve been riding him for some time, so I can see how he’s more experienced now. I have always thought he’s a capable horse, and I’m excited about it being a [Group] 1 this time and hope he can win.”

The well-traveled Red le Zele (Jpn) (Lord Kanaloa {Jpn}) swerves next weekend’s G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in favor of the February, a race in which he was fourth and sixth, respectively, to Cafe Pharoah the last two years. Runner-up to Switzerland (Speightstown) in last year’s G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, the 7-year-old downed T M South Dan (Jpn) (South Vigorous) in the Listed Tokyo Hai last October and was last seen finishing a running-on fourth to last year’s Riyadh Dirt Sprint hero Dancing Prince (Jpn) (Pas de Trois {Jpn}) in the Listed JBC Sprint the following month.

Charles Fipke breaks new ground Sunday when his homebredTDN Rising Star‘ Shirl’s Speight (Speightstown) becomes the first foreign raider to contest the February S. The upset winner of the GI Maker’s Mark Mile last season, the bay makes his first start on the dirt since a third to Mind Control (Stay Thirsty) in the GIII Salvator Mile last June and his first since running champion Modern Games (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) to three-parts of a length in the GI Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland last November.

“He’s a very versatile horse, but watching videos of him here and watching him this morning, he looks like he’s handling the track very well and if he can run to his true ability, he will be very competitive–but it is unknown to me,” commented trainer Roger Attfield, who has tabbed Joao Moreira to ride.

The February S. serves as a ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier for the 2023 GI Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar.

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