Race favorite and 2023 February Stakes victor Lemon Pop led the field wire-to-wire on Sunday, December 3 in the Champions Cup to become the fourth horse in history to win both Grade 1 dirt events in the same year. Gold Dream won both races in 2017, Transcend in 2011 and Wing Arrow in 2000.
The son of Lemon Drop Kid kicked off the 2023 racing season with consecutive wins in the Negishi Stakes (G3, dirt, 1,400 meters) and the February Stakes (G1, dirt, 1,600 meters).
And although he finished 10th in his first overseas endeavor, the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1, dirt, 1,200 meters), Lemon Pop won his comeback start back home in the Mile Championship Nambu Hai (dirt, 1,600 meters) on October 9 with an overwhelming 2.0-second margin before coming into this race.
On Sunday, trainer Hiroyasu Tanaka and jockey Ryusei Sakai marked their second and fourth Japan Racing Association G1 victories, respectively, following their win with this horse in the February Stakes.
How the 24th Champions Cup Unfolded
Lemon Pop, quick out of the gate from the widest stall, accelerated strongly to assume command in Toyoake, Aichi Prefecture. The 5-year-old chestnut maintained his lead and continued to run persistently after entering the lane, holding off the strong challenges from behind to clear the wire with a 1¼-length margin. (Watch the race on the JRA's YouTube channel.)
"He was quick out of the gate and wanted to go, so I chose to race him in the front," Sakai said after the race. "Though it was his first 1,800-meter race and the outermost stall was not to his advantage, I think he handled it well with his remarkable ability."
The winning jockey added, "He was really strong. That’s all I can say. I’m really looking forward to his future races."
A Spirited Effort to Earn a Second-Place Finish
Twelfth pick Wilson Tesoro (Yusuke Hara's ride) traveled second from the rear on the rails after a poor break and angled out to enter the lane. While unable to find a clear path at the early stretch, the Kitasan Black colt switched further out around 350 meters out and launched the fastest late drive to overtake all his rivals but the winner to finish second.
Ninth favorite Dura Erede (Bauyrzhan Murzabayev) tracked 1½ lengths behind the leader in second, closed the gap at the final corner but failed to catch the winner. And while overtaken by the fast-closing runner-up just before the wire, Dura Erede secured third place by a neck after dueling with T O Keynes (Kohei Matsuyama).
Read the full article about the Champions Cup, including details about each horse's performance, on JRA News.
Follow horse racing coverage throughout the year on SportsLook.
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Author: JRA News