Godolphin's Lemon Pop Secures Breeders' Cup Classic Berth With February Stakes Win In Japan, U.S.-Based Shirl’s Speight Unplaced - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Godolphin’s Lemon Pop Secures Breeders’ Cup Classic Berth With February Stakes Win In Japan, U.S.-Based Shirl’s Speight Unplaced

Japan-trained Kentucky-bred Lemon Pop captures the February Stakes at Tokyo Racecourse

Prominent throughout, Godolphin's 2-1 favored Lemon Pop surged to the front into the stretch under jockey Ryusei Sakai to win Sunday's $1.9-million February Stakes (G1) on dirt at Tokyo Racecourse by 1½ lengths over Red le Zele.

With his victory in the one-mile race, Lemon Pop gained the first automatic berth into this year's $6-million Longines Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) through the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series: Win and You're In.

Charles Fipke's Canadian-based Shirl's Speight, runner-up in last year's FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) at Keeneland and the first foreign entrant in the history of the February Stakes, finished ninth of 16 runners.

Lemon Pop, bred in Kentucky by Mr. and Mrs. S. Oliver Tait, is a 5-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid out of Unreachable, by Giant's Causeway. Trained by Hiroyasu Takana, Lemon Pop earned his eighth win in 11 starts, and completed the mile in 1:35.60 over a track listed as standard. Lemon Pop came into the race off a half-length win in the seven-furlong Negishi Stakes (G3) at Tokyo on Jan. 29.

Before a crowd of 46,121, the 40th February Stakes unfolded with the 6-year-old mare Shonan Nadeshiko taking the lead, followed closely by Helios and Keiai Turquoise while Sakai settled Lemon Pop three-wide and a couple of lengths behind in fifth place.

Gradually improving position, Lemon Pop came out of the last turn in fourth, unleashed a furious stretch drive overhauling Helios 300 meters out to grab the lead. Lemon Pop then held off the fast-closing Red le Zele for the win.

“I'm grateful to have been given the chance to ride such a strong and favored horse and am happy we won,” said winning jockey Sakai. “I rode him in workouts and found out he was laid-back and very easy to ride. Today, we sat near the pace, just as planned. He responded well and pulled away strongly, all the way to the wire.”

Red le Zele, the 9-1 third choice, who finished sixth in last year's race, was reserved second from the rear after breaking from post 15, the second widest stall. After shifting wide for a clear path, Red le Zele stormed down the stretch but failed to catch the winner.

Sent off as the 10-1 fourth favorite, Meisho Hario stumbled a few strides after his break and chased the field from the rear. Entering the lane last, the chestnut displayed the second fastest late drive and picked off his rivals one by one to dig in for third, 2 1/2 lengths behind Red le Zele.

Shirl's Speight, trained by Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, broke well from stall two, ran in mid-field on the rail, shifted a path out for his stretch run but struggled to find room or demonstrate his good late speed, and finished ninth.

“From what the jockey (Joao Moreira) was telling me, he wasn't enjoying the kick-back that much, but I think he ran an OK race,” said Attfield. “I just think he's a superior turf horse, but we gave it a try.”

Now in its 16th season, the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series is an international series of stakes races whose winners receive automatic starting positions and fees paid into a corresponding race of the Breeders' Cup World Championships, which is scheduled to be held at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, on Nov. 3-4.

As a part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders' Cup will pay the entry fees for Lemon Pop to start in the 1 ¼-mile Longines Breeders' Cup Classic. Breeders' Cup will also provide a travel allowance for all starters based outside of North America to compete in the World Championships.

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