Racing in mid-pack most of the way after breaking from the far outside post in a field of nine, International Star finally made his way to the rail, and that's all he needed to win the Risen Star Stakes.
International Star was three wide on the first turn, and then Miguel Mena dropped him over to settle in sixth while California invader St. Joe Bay carved out fractions of :23.29, :47.08 and 1:12.16. The bay colt accelerated while skimming the rail inside Bluff on the far turn before squeezing through a small opening on the rail beside St. Joe Bay at the top of the stretch.
In a matter of seconds, International Star was home free. War Story made a late run to finish second by a length, and Keen Ice also came running late to get third, beaten 2 3/4 lengths and a head in front of St. Joe Bay. The 3-2 wagering favorite, Imperia, was another 4 3/4 lengths back in fifth.The race was timed in 1:43.82.
International Star picked up 50 Kentucky Derby points and now leads all contenders with 71.
The $240,000 victor’s share of the $400,000 purse increased International Star’s career earnings to $560,979. It was his fourth win in eight starts and the third in a graded stake. Bet down to third choice at 7-2 odds, he returned $9.60, $4.60 and $3.40. War Story, who was slow from the gate for the second consecutive race, returned $4.80 and $3.40, while Keen Ice returned $4.00 to show.
There's no doubt International Star loves running by the rail. He won the Lecomte Stakes in similar fashion except that he broke from post 1.
“The post position worried me,” Mena said. “You never know if you can get to the rail, where he wants to be. I was impressed because I moved at the five-sixteenths-pole to get through and he came through a tight hole and then another one at the quarter-pole and kept running and drawing away. I think more distance will be no problem. He rates well, he loves the rail; it doesn’t matter how tight the hole is – he goes for it. When I put him on the rail, he grabs the bit and when we come up to a tight hole, he just goes for it. Not many horses do that. The more you save, the more you’re going to get. He’s not much to look at it, but he has a big heart.”
Trainer Mike Maker was very pleased and said the Louisiana Derby would be next.
“He was doing super, and he ran as advertised,” Maker said. “I wasn’t worried about the post. Realistically, I thought we would wind up having an outside trip, and we wound up having a trip like in the Lecomte turning for home. I’m not going to change routes for him; he loves it here, and there’s no reason to change course.”
Kent Desormeaux, after a rough trip on War Story, was curt. “We had about the same trip as the winner, but he cut the corner and I had to swing five wide. He didn’t break well. There’s nothing more to say.”
“We had a great trip, but he just didn’t handle the surface,” said Mike Smith about Imperia. “When I had him in hand he was fine, but when I asked him to pick up, he just started swimming.”
The remaining order of finish was completed by Bluff, Tiznow R J, Big Big Easy and Hero of Humor.
By Dick Downey with additional content from Fair Grounds release