Shirl’s Speight ahead of the Breeders’ Cup Mile (Courtney Snow/Past The Wire)
Winner to Receive First Automatic Berth into 2023 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park
Breeders’ Cup Press Release
TOKYO— Led by Godolphin’s Lemon Pop, Shimotsuki Stakes winner Dry Stout (JPN), and 2022 FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) runner-up Shirl’s Speight, a field of 16 runners has been entered for Sunday’s US$1.9 million February Stakes (G1) at Tokyo Racecourse, with the winner receiving the first automatic berth into this year’s US$6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In.
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.
The February Stakes, run at 1 mile on dirt, will be televised live on FanDuel TV at 10:40 p.m. PT on Saturday, Feb. 18.
The 5-year-old Lemon Pop, trained by Hiroyasu Tanaka, comes into the race off a half-length win in the 7-furlong Negishi Stakes (G3) at Tokyo on Jan. 29. The victory was the seventh in 10 starts for the son of Lemon Drop Kid out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Unreachable. Assistant trainer Toshikiko Hokari recently commented on Lemon Pop’s tough performance in the Negishi to the Japan Racing Association website: “He didn’t start particularly well last time, but the jockey (Keita Tosaki) made sure things went smoothly enough. At the top of the home straight, I thought things looked fine but the late challenge from Gilded Mirror (JPN) and other horses made it more difficult, although he was able to hold on and win.”
The Negishi win was Lemon Pop’s fourth victory in his last five starts on dirt, with his only defeat coming in the Group 3 Tokyo Chunichi Sports Hai Musashino Stakes on Nov. 12, when he finished second by a nose to Gilded Mirror. Lemon Pop was bred in Kentucky by Mr. and Mrs. Oliver S. Tait.
YGG Horse Club Co.’s 4-year-old Dry Stout has also been a consistent runner, winning four of six starts. A son of Sinister Minister, trained by Mitsunori Makiura, Dry Stout began his 2023 campaign with a second-place finish in the listed 7-furlong Subaru Stakes at Chukyo on Jan. 7. Dry Stout is unbeaten in two starts at Tokyo, including the Shimotsuki Stakes last November.
“It got a bit crowded on the run for home last time and he had to wait to get his finish in, but when the opening came, he ran on well,” said Makiura about Dry Stout’s runner-up finish in the Subaru. “Up to now he’s been able to race from good positions in his races, but I wanted to see how he could finish running from mid-position. In that sense, it was an ideal test for him, and I’m satisfied with how things turned out and to see that he could finish second from where he ran in the trip.”
Charles E. Fipke’s 6-year-old Kentucky homebred Shirl’s Speight is the first foreign-based entrant slated to run in the February Stakes. Trained by Hall of Famer Roger Attfield, Shirl’s Speight finished three-quarters of a length behind Modern Games (IRE) in the FanDuel Breeders’ Cup Mile on turf last November at Keeneland. Last April, Shirl’s Speight won the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile, also at Keeneland.
Shirl’s Speight is a son of 2004 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) winner Speightsown out of the Fipke-owned 2011 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) winner Perfect Shirl. In preparation for the February Stakes, Shirl’s Speight breezed five times on the dirt track at Payson Park in Florida since Dec. 31 before arriving in Japan on Feb. 8. Shirl’s Speight will be making his first start on dirt since two off-the-board finishes in optional allowance claiming races Gulfstream Park in 2021.
“He’s in great condition and he’s happy here,” said Attfield at a Tokyo news conference on Thursday. “I was a little concerned about the deeper sand going for him because he is basically a turf horse in America. But he seems to have handled it very well. We schooled him this morning just from the turf to the dirt track which he handled very well.”
Tokyo Horse Racing Co.’s 7-year-old Red le Zele (JPN), by Lord Kanaloa (JPN), finished sixth in last year’s February Stakes behind Cafe Pharoah but rebounded with a solid second-place finish behind Switzerland in the 6-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) at Meydan last March. Trained by Takayuki Yasuda, Red le Zele did not start again until the 6-furlong Tokyo Hai at Ohi on Oct. 5, and posted a 1-length victory. He closed out last year with a fourth-place finish in the JBC Sprint at Morioka on Nov. 3.
Suzuyuki Koto’s Speedy Kick (JPN) and Tetsuhide Kunimoto’s homebred Shonan Nadeshiko (JPN) are the only females entered in the race. The 4-year-old Speedy Kick, trained by Tomoyuki Fujihara, won five races last year, including the Cinderella Mile at Ohi on Dec. 30. Shonan Nadeshiko, a 6-year-old daughter of Orfervre (JPN), has nine wins, and earned four of them last year on dirt. She also ran well against males in the 1 ¼-mile Tokyo Daishoten at Ohi on Dec. 29, carrying the lead into the stretch before finishing sixth.
“She just ran out of steam in the final 100 meters of the Tokyo Daishoten last time,” said her trainer Naosuke Sugai. “I think she did her best.”
As a part of the benefits of the Challenge Series, Breeders’ Cup will pay the entry fees for the winner of the February Stakes 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. The Challenge winner must be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup program by the pre-entry deadline of Oct. 23 to receive the rewards.
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