Master Fencer finishes sixth in the Kentucky Derby
Master Fencer finished an admirable sixth place in the 145th Kentucky Derby as the first Japanese-bred racehorse to take a crack at the Run for the Roses on Sunday.
On a wild afternoon at Churchill Downs that saw second-choice winner Maximum Security demoted to 17th on grounds of interference and long-shot Country House reach the winner’s circle in his place, the Koichi Tsunoda-trained Master Fencer closed within two lengths out of first despite hobbling out of his stall in the mud.
Master Fencer, who went off as the 17th betting favorite with odds of 58 to 1, was the third horse trained in Japan to enter the Kentucky Derby. His sixth-place finish was the highest yet by a Japanese runner, improving on Ski Captain’s 14th in 1995 and Lani who came in ninth three years ago.
By three-time Grade 1 champion Just a Way out of the Deputy Minister dam Sexy Zamurai, Master Fencer had secured a spot in Sunday’s race via the Japanese Road to the Kentucky Derby. The colt’s jockey Julien Leparoux gave his mount a pat on the back after the race, saying the horse had a lot to look forward to for his next start, the Belmont Stakes, the third leg of the American Triple Crown.
“Watching his past races, I was well aware of his gate speed and I knew how the race would unfold for him,” Leparoux said.
“He finished the race incredibly strong. The surface, the track, they both suited him and I think he’ll be fine even at a longer distance,” he added, referring to the 2,400-meter Belmont Stakes which is longer than the Kentucky Derby by a couple of furlongs.
“I very much appreciate the connections of this horse for allowing me the opportunity to ride in the Derby,” the French-born rider told race organizers.
In the peppering rain on the slop before a crowd of 150,729 at Churchill Downs, Master Fencer departed on his groundbreaking journey from the No. 15 post in a field of 19 after Haikal and Omaha Beach were scratched.
Not the quickest off the starting blocks over his seven-race career, Master Fencer was the last to leave the gates, being forced to play catch up and bring up the rear throughout a trip that lasted slightly more than two minutes, led from start to finish by Maximum Security under Luis Saez.
Master Fencer was still in last place rounding for home – where Maximum Security drifted to the outside, cutting off War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress in the process – but showed tremendous fight in the mad dash for the wire.
Leparoux tucked the Japanese chestnut inside on the final straight, finding a free lane about a horse wide of the railing. As Leparoux cracked the whip, Master Fencer showed tremendous response, gaining on the frontrunners with each stride before passing the winning post seventh – and before objections were lodged against Maximum Security.
Following a stewards’ review of more than 20 minutes, it was the first time in the entire history of the Kentucky Derby that the winner was disqualified for interference as Bill Mott’s Country House, at odds of 65 to 1, was the beneficiary of a dramatic reversal of fortune.
Maximum Security’s trainer Jason Servis did not think his horse impacted the end result of the race.
"I don't think it changed the outcome of the race,” Servis was quoted as saying on the Kentucky Derby official website. “It looks like something scared him in the infield, but I haven't been able to watch it that close.”
"I feel bad for the owners, the Wests. It looked like he ducked out a little bit. It's [the disqualification] tough. It hasn't sunk in yet, but it will."
Country House’s Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who also took third with Tacitus getting the bump to the podium as a result of Maximum Security’s disqualification, had mixed feelings about the turn of events on this day.
“You say you always want to win with a clean trip and everyone recognize the horse as the great athlete he is and due to the DQ, some of that is diminished,” said Mott, now a first-time Kentucky Derby winner.
“Two horses lost all chance to win a Kentucky Derby and they were in a position at the time to hit the board. People bet on these horses and millions are bet on these races. I know the stewards had a very difficult decision. With that being said, I’m damn glad they put our number up.”
Tsunoda was pleased with the performance of Master Fencer, who is on course to run in the June 8 Belmont Stakes in New York.
“He was even bigger than he was for his last race. I’m just really proud of him,” Tsunoda said. “I hope the horse will stay fit so he can get ready for his next start without having to worry about anything.”
“He didn’t break that well, but we knew he’d break slowly,” the trainer said to race organizers. “He made a huge effort in the stretch. I’m really pleased with how we finished so close to the other quality horses in the race.”
“Great effort by horse and rider. If he comes out of this well, I want to take him to the Belmont (Stakes) next.”
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Equibase - Kentucky Derby Result: Chart