Master Fencer finishes fifth in the Belmont Stakes

Japanese glory in the American Triple Crown will have to wait for another day as the Koichi Tsunoda-trained Master Fencer finished fifth in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday evening.

MASTER FENCER heads back after the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
MASTER FENCER heads back after the 151st running of the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. Picture: (Nicole Bello/Getty Images)

Master Fencer, by triple Grade 1 champion in Japan Just a Way out of the Deputy Minister dam Sexy Zamurai, crossed the finish line almost three lengths behind the race’s new champion Sir Winston, trained by Mark Casse – who also works War of Will, winner of the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

War of Will, the second choice in a field of 10, ended up a disappointing ninth. Tacitus, the top betting favorite, was runner-up a length behind Sir Winston with least-favored Joevia taking third. Sir Winston ran the 2,400 meters in 2 minutes, 28.30 seconds.

Tsunoda and jockey Julien Leparoux were gracious in defeat as they attempted to improve on Lani’s third-place finish in 2016 under Yutake Take in the “Test of the Champion.” Master Fencer was the eighth pick in the final leg of the U.S. Triple Crown.

“The horse was in excellent form and ran as well as he could,” the French-born Leparoux said of Master Fencer, who will leave for his trip back to Japan on Thursday. “But the pace was slow and I tried to get him going ahead of the final bend but he got left behind. He showed a lot of kick down the stretch, however, something he can be proud of.”

Master Fencer was trying to become the first Japanese-trained horse to win a G1 dirt race on United States soil. Go And Go, of Ireland in 1990, remains as the only non American-trained colt to have won the Belmont Stakes in the race’s 151-year history – the oldest of the U.S. Classic races.

After placing an impressive sixth in the May 4 Kentucky Derby on the slop at Churchill Downs, Master Fencer – the first horse bred in Japan to run in the Belmont Stakes – broke well from the No. 3 post and took a seat at the back for most of the journey along the railing to his style, blessed with far better than he had in the Derby a month ago.

Master Fencer made a valiant effort turning for home from the outside but by the time Leparoux’s mount hit top gear, Sir Winston and the frontrunners were well in the clear for the finish and a winner’s check of US$800,000 from a purse of US$1.5 million. Master Fencer did not run in the Preakness on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.

Tsunoda felt his horse could have done better but still proud of Master Fencer at the same time.

“We got off to a good start. The pace was gentle early on but it picked up going into the next to last turn and he just couldn’t keep up,” he said.

“It’s all part and parcel of racing so it is what it is but it’s tough to deal with because we were all in it to help Master Fencer win. The horse ran his heart out for sure. We’ll have to see how he recovers before deciding on when to race him next.”

Casse, the 10-time Sovereign Award winner, Canadian Thoroughbred Hall of Fame member and 2019 nominee to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, was a happy camper the morning following the race.

“I'm not a drinker,” said the trainer, who was quoted by the official website of the Belmont Stakes. “But last night we all went out to dinner and the restaurant where we ate had a specialty drink on the menu called the Sir Winston.”

“So, I had one. It probably helped me sleep because I don't usually have one. I actually slept last night, and I slept good." 
"There are lots of things going on right now. It usually takes me a few days, but we're very excited to win the Belmont. That was a great ride by Joel (Rosario).”

Master Fencer’s owner Katsumi Yoshizawa termed it all a good learning experience for his team.

“I had a really good time here and enjoyed the experience," Yoshizawa said. "I learned a lot for next time."
Japan Racing Association