Der Flug Wins Final Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby Prep Race

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

March 31st, 2019

The Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby reached its conclusion with the Fukuryu Stakes at Nakayama Racecourse on March 31, though it remains to be seen whether the four-race series will produce a starter for the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Eight horses lined up to contest the 1,800-meter race, though with the well-regarded Derma Louvre on the road for the UAE Derby (UAE-II) and last month’s Hyacinth Stakes winner Oval Ace absent from the action, the Fukuryu field was a bit lacking in prominent players. Nova Lenda, winner of the Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun in December, had already earned 20 points on the Japan Road to the Kentucky Derby and was the main horse of note from a Derby perspective, but bettors in Japan seemed unenthusiastic about his chances, sending him off as only the second choice behind the undefeated Der Flug.

In the end, the bettors were correct. After settling in third place behind modest fractions of :25 flat, :50.80, and 1:15.20, Nova Lenda found nothing down the lane and steadily retreated to finish fifth. In the meantime, Der Flug produced an eye-catching late rally under a confident ride from jockey Akihide Tsumura, closing the final 600 meters in :37.30 to win by 1 ½ lengths over the similarly late-charging Master Fencer. The final time was 1:53.20 seconds, a typical clocking for the Fukuryu Stakes.
For his victory, Der Flug earned 40 qualification points to sit atop the leaderboard, but the Nobuhiro Suzuki-trained son of Behkabad has not been nominated to the Triple Crown and seems unlikely to make a trip to Churchill Downs. Second on the leaderboard is Nova Lenda, but he isn't nominated either, and his disappointing fifth-place finish in the Fukuryu might discourage his connections from supplementing him to the race.

However, moving into third place on the list with 19 points is the Triple Crown-nominated Master Fencer, who improved significantly from his fourth-place effort in the Hyacinth last month, reaching nearly even terms with Der Flug at the top of the stretch before flattening out slightly to finish clearly second-best. With two wins and a second from four starts on dirt (at four different racetracks), Master Fencer has shown himself to be a versatile and improving colt with a potential opportunity to showcase his talents before an international audience in the Kentucky Derby.

From a pedigree perspective, Master Fencer is a mixed bag of dirt and turf influences, but stamina would not seem to be an issue given that his sire—Just a Way—was a Group 1 winner going 2,000 meters (about 1 ¼ miles), and his dam—Sexy Zamurai—is a daughter of the high-class router and stamina influence Deputy Minister.

Shipping halfway around the world to compete in the Kentucky Derby would be an undeniably challenging task for Master Fencer, but if Japan is going to have a Derby starter, he appears to be the most likely (and perhaps the only) candidate.