02/23/2013 6:20PM

Fair Grounds: Keith Desormeaux stands firm; Ive Struck a Nerve pays $272 in Risen Star

Lou Hodges Jr.
Ive Struck a Nerve, foreground, wins the Risen Star by a nose over a resurgent Code West.

NEW ORLEANS – Three-year-old stakes horses capped the 2011 – 2012 Fair Grounds racing season with a burst of insanity when 109-1 shot Hero of Order won the Louisiana Derby. Oxbow restored a measure of order winning the first 3-year-old stakes this meet, the Jan. 19 Lecomte, at a reasonable 9-2. But wackiness returned Saturday when Ive Struck a Nerve rallied from last to edge Code West in the Risen Star Stakes at odds of 135-1.

Before the Risen Star, Ive Struck a Nerve had started eight times – at Del Mar, at Santa Anita, at Delta Downs, and here at Fair Grounds - and had won once, capturing a local maiden sprint Nov. 24. He had finished a fading fourth in the Lecomte last month at odds of 33-1, adding stamina concerns to existing questions of quality. But trainer Keith Desormeaux pondered Ive Struck a Nerve’s pedigree, stared at his conformation, kept thinking that Ive Struck a Nerve deserved one more chance in a two-turn stakes race.

“I just couldn’t accept that he couldn’t get a distance,” Desormeaux said.

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

In the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star, Ive Struck a Nerve got 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.52, faster than older-horse Mark Valeski’s winning time two races earlier in the Mineshaft Handicap. Moreover, the 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points Ive Struck a Nerve earned with his win, along with his one point from the Lecomte, might well be enough to give him a chance to get 1 1/4 miles the first Saturday in May.

Ive Struck a Nerve got up to win despite racing last of 12 on the first turn and down the backstretch behind a moderate early tempo. With Oxbow breaking flat-footed, rail-drawn Proud Strike surprisingly led the way, going his opening quarter-mile in 23.92 seconds and the first half in 48.34. It was obvious the pace wasn’t fast from the way the Risen Star field bunched into the far turn, Code West and Oxbow rolling up to overtake Proud Strike, with Mylute and several others poised just behind them.

Two horses lagged at the back of the pack; favored Normandy Invasion, who broke a touch slow and was clipped by Oxbow just after the start, and Ive Struck a Nerve, who saved ground around both turns. James Graham, aboard Ive Struck a Nerve for the first time, began picking off tiring rivals before the three-furlong pole, never having to stray far from the fence until he turned for home, his horse full of run. Ive Struck a Nerve rallied outside the lead group in the stretch, striking the front in the final 50 yards and barely holding off a resurgent Code West, who had fallen back to fourth in mid-stretch.

Palace Malice, who closed from ninth, finished third, a half-length behind Code West and a nose in front of Oxbow, who took the lead at the top of the stretch and couldn’t sustain his run. Normandy Invasion, the 3-2 choice, ran on decently for fifth, losing ground on the far turn while the winner took a shorter route. He was followed by Golden Soul, Mylute – who loomed and faded – Proud Strike, Bethel, Agent, Circle Unbroken, and Hardrock Eleven.

In addition to the 50 Derby qualifying points to Ive Struck a Nerve, Code West earned 20 points, Palace Malice 10 points, and Oxbow 5 points, giving him 16 points.

The winner, who paid $272.40, was bred in Kentucky by Brereton Jones. Ive Struck a Nerve is by Yankee Gentleman and out of the Cryptoclearance mare Ranaway. His owner, Matthew Bryan, who races as Big Chief Racing LLC, began sending horses to Desormeaux last year, and has helped the 22-year veteran to a strong Fair Grounds meeting. Ive Struck a Nerve was the 14th Fair Grounds winner for Desormeaux, also providing Desormeaux his first graded stakes win and the longest-odds victory he could recall.

“It was easy to run here from a horsemanship standpoint,” said Desormeaux, the Louisiana born and raised older brother of jockey Kent Desormeaux. “The hard thing is accepting in your mind you’re doing the right thing by the horse. You know you’re going to be 100-1. You know you’ll have to shock the world.”

Desormeaux said the weeks between the Lecomte and the Risen Star included two in-company works intended to encourage Ive Struck a Nerve to relax and finish, something he failed to do in the Lecomte. The result was a shocking win, Desormeaux assuming the role of trainer Gennadi Dorochenko, who saddled Hero of Order to his Louisiana Derby win.

“I’m the Cajun Dorochenko!” Desormeaux shouted, making his way out of the winner’s circle and into a celebratory evening.