Updated on 02/27/2013 11:08AM

Fair Grounds: Ive Struck a Nerve puts lessons to good use in Risen Star

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Hodges Photography/Jamie Hernandez
Ive Struck a Nerve, who learned to relax under new rider James Graham, earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Risen Star.

The anatomy of Ive Struck a Nerve’s 135-1 upset in the Risen Star Stakes began forming not long after the colt’s fading fourth-place finish in the Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 19 at Fair Grounds. In the Lecomte, trainer Keith Desormeaux saw a colt fighting his rider, a horse who declined to switch off early and finish late, the way his trainer wanted Ive Struck a Nerve to race. It was a problem dating to this past summer, when Ive Struck a Nerve became rank and aggressive when Desormeaux first stretched him out to two turns.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

In workouts between the Lecomte and the Risen Star – two of which took place with new rider James Graham in the irons – the focus was settle and finish, settle and finish. In one work, Ive Struck a Nerve was placed behind a workmate and forced to bide his time; in another, Ive Struck a Nerve ran abreast his work partner, his switch turned to off.

Whatever tasks were undertaken, everything came together in the Risen Star, where Ive Struck a Nerve dropped back to last in a 12-horse field without ever pulling hard on Grahams’s reins. Settled and relaxed, Ive Struck a Nerve made one big run to win the Risen Star by a nose.

To many the victory will seem like a fluke, and time might prove it so. But Ive Struck a Nerve’s 1 1/16 miles  in 1:44.52 produced a Beyer Speed Figure of 95 that will match up competitively with the more widely recognized members of his generation, and since it was accomplished using a new running style, time might also prove it duplicable.

“I don’t know if he can do it again,” Desormeaux said Sunday. “We just won’t know until we run him back how he’s going to be.”

Ive Struck a Nerve ate his grain Saturday night and appeared no worse for wear Sunday, according to his trainer. The next step on what ultimately could be a trip to the Kentucky Derby – the 50 Derby qualifying points he earned Saturday alone might be sufficient to make the 20-horse field – will come in the $1 million Louisiana Derby.

“It’d be crazy for us to pass up that kind of money in our own backyard,” said Desormeaux, who trains Ive Struck a Nerve for Matt Bryan’s Big Chief Racing.

The longer 1 1/8-mile Louisiana Derby will present a further obstacle for Ive Struck a Nerve; Desormeaux noted minutes after the Risen Star that the colt had not drawn away from runner-up Code West, and wondered if the distance might have “maxed out” Ive Struck a Nerve.

Code West, on the other hand, appears capable of running at about the same pace for as far as races are written. On the lead after a half-mile while racing along the inside, Code West briefly was swallowed up by several foes making midstretch moves. But while those rallies fizzled, Code West continued chugging along, and at the finish he was coming back on Ive Struck a Nerve.

 “He ran well. He’s kind of a one-paced horse, and he wants to run farther. I don’t think he ever saw the horse on his outside,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who said Code West appeared to have come out of the Risen Star in good shape, and was headed back to California on Sunday.

While Code West ran well in his Fair Grounds debut, Baffert was noncommittal regarding a return trip for the Louisiana Derby next month.

Plans also are fluid for third-place Palace Malice, one of several horses who loomed in the stretch and could not close the deal. Both Palace Malice and Rachel Alexandra Stakes winner Unlimited Budget returned to Florida on Sunday in good order, trainer Todd Pletcher reported. It would be no surprise if Unlimited Budget returned to New Orleans for the Fair Grounds Oaks next month.

Favored Normandy Invasion was last going into the Risen Star’s first turn after Oxbow brushed him just after the start. He spent much of the race in 11th place, with only Ive Struck a Nerve behind him, and lost ground on the far turn before rallying for a close fifth in his first start since a nose loss last fall in the Remsen Stakes. The result earned Normandy Invasion no Kentucky Derby qualifying points, dealing a blow to Derby hopes for trainer Chad Brown and owner Rick Porter.

“He had no chance the way things worked out,” Brown said. “We’ll give him one more chance in one of these races.”