03/28/2015 6:48PM

International Star gets hard-fought win in Louisiana Derby

Alexander Barkoff/Hodges Photography
International Star, with Miguel Mena aboard, scores a neck victory over Stanford in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on Saturday.

NEW ORLEANS – If there is one thing Ken Ramsey lives for, one thing that drives him more than anything, it’s his desire to stand in the winner’s circle on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs following the day’s featured race. He’s had several shots at it, never has won, but his quest continues, and was at the forefront of his mind after International Star won the Grade 2, $750,000 Louisiana Derby on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

As family and friends formed around Ramsey to take the winner’s-circle photo, his unmistakable voice rose above them all. “Kentucky Derby, here we come!” he shouted.

International Star earned his way to the Derby by sweeping this track’s Kentucky Derby preps. He won the Lecomte in January, the Risen Star last month, and completed the hat trick in the Louisiana Derby, which he won by running down Stanford in the final strides.
International Star ($6.60), the favorite, beat Stanford by a neck, with War Story another 4 1/4 lengths back in third. Keen Ice was fourth and was followed by Fusaichi Flame, St. Joe Bay, Defondo, A Day in Paradise, and Mr. Z.

Miguel Mena, who has been aboard International Star for all three of his races here, beat a steady tattoo on International Star down the stretch with a punishing right-hand whip. International Star, a small colt with a big will to win, kept to his task and got up. He was timed in 1:50.67 for 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track.

The win gave Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker consecutive wins in the Louisiana Derby. They won the race last year with Vicar’s in Trouble, who went on to finish last in the Kentucky Derby.

“Feels great, back to back,” Ramsey said. “I like the Louisiana people. Cajuns are great.”

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The Louisiana Derby was worth 100 points to the winner toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby, but International Star already had earned a spot based on points gleaned in prior victories. This was very rich icing on a New Orleans King Cake.

International Star started from the outside post in the field of nine, but Mena was able to steer him to the rail midway around the first turn. From there, International Star used his small size and ability to accelerate through holes to his advantage, as he advanced to a contending position.

Stanford, who had set fractions of 24.03 seconds for the opening quarter, 48.59 seconds for a half, and 1:13.27 for six furlongs, had plenty left for the challenge and staved off International Star past the furlong pole, but International Star wore him down in the shadow of the wire.

“He closed into some soft fractions,” said Maker, who said International Star would leave for Kentucky from here Sunday morning. Maker joked that he’d take some Fair Grounds dirt with him to spread at Churchill Downs since International Star likes this surface so much.

International Star, a son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, has now won five times in nine starts, and the $450,000 he earned from the Louisiana Derby brought his career bankroll to just over $1 million. Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, purchased him as a yearling for just $85,000.