01/17/2015 8:06PM

International Star proves dirt ability with victory in Lecomte

Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography
International Star wins the Lecomte Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths Saturday at Fair Grounds.

NEW ORLEANS – International Star looked like a turf and synthetics horse during most of his 2-year-old campaign, but on Saturday at Fair Grounds, he looked very much the dirt horse, winning the Grade 3, $200,000 Lecomte Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths over War Story and Tiznow R J.

Racing along the rail under Miguel Mena, International Star followed Another Lemon Drop up the fence until mid-stretch, wheeled out for running room, and easily passed War Story and Tiznow R J to register a convincing victory. International Star bore out after making the lead, but Mena said the horse just lost focus, and he had plenty of momentum to carry him to victory.

International Star raced three times on turf, including a ninth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and won the Grey Stakes on Woodbine Polytrack during a six-start 2014 campaign. He finished second in a Saratoga dirt sprint before returning after the Breeders’ Cup to finish a solid fourth on dirt in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 29 at Churchill.

Trainer Mike Maker said he sent International Star to Fair Grounds earlier this week from Gulfstream because he thought the horse lacked the speed for a one-turn mile there and was better off running around two turns, and it was a good call. International Star earned 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for his win. Maker said the colt would return to Florida on Sunday morning with no set plans for his next start.

Tiznow R J broke on top in the Lecomte and looked like he would get a perfect front-end trip for an eighth of a mile, but Hero of Humor, and then Runhappy bolted to the front, and bulky Tiznow R J found himself in a tricky spot, shuffled back to third, as the pace turned quick, 23.66 seconds for a quarter and 47.07 for a half.

Runhappy, racing erratically, faded before the three-furlong pole, and Hero of Humor was finished at the top of the stretch. Another Lemon Drop got a dream run along the fence but did not accelerate once clear, and it was Tiznow R J, now three wide, who pounced to take the lead. War Story, away dreadfully while breaking sideways, had stalked from mid-pack, and while racing wide on the far turn, he took aim at Tiznow R J.

Those two were together at the eighth pole, but when Mena wheeled International Star out for running room, he ran past them with ease. International Star stopped the timer in 1:43.62 for one mile and 70 yards on a fast track, a time 0.41 seconds slower than I’m a Chatterbox’s clocking two races earlier in the Silverbulletday Stakes.

Behind Another Lemon Drop in fourth came Savoy Stomp, who was checked back to last shortly after the break, followed by Hero of Humor, Eagle, Dekabrist, Runhappy, Killingit, and Four Leaf Chief.

Eagle, the 3-1 favorite after a good third-place finish to end his 2-year-old campaign in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, had a tough draw in post 11 and encountered some early traffic but failed to pick up his feet.

“Nothing went right today,” said jockey Brian Hernandez Jr.

It was the second Lecomte win in a row for Maker and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who captured the 2014 race with Vicar’s In Trouble.

International Star is nothing like Vicar’s In Trouble, a handy frontrunner with brilliant speed who sprinted as effectively as he routed. An $85,000 yearling by Fusaichi Pegasus out of the French Deputy mare Parlez, International Star won for the third time in seven starts, a staying-on kind of horse who, it now appears, runs as well on one surface as another.