03/25/2015 1:50PM

International Star quietly opening eyes

Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography
International Star won the Lecomte and Risen Star (above), and would make it a Fair Grounds sweep with a Louisiana Derby win.

NEW ORLEANS – He’s won on dirt, synthetic, and turf, won going short and going long, owns wins at Belmont Park and Woodbine, and trains at Gulfstream Park. But it is here at Fair Grounds where International Star has done his best work on a résumé that deserves far more praise than it has garnered.

International Star has won both the Lecomte and the Risen Star, and on Saturday, he will go for a clean sweep of the local preps for the May 2 Kentucky Derby when he competes in the Grade 2, $750,000 Louisiana Derby.

“He’s flying under the radar, but with Baffert’s horses, he should be,” trainer Mike Maker said, referring to Kentucky Derby favorites American Pharoah and Dortmund.

:: DERBY WATCH: Top 20 list | Kentucky Derby: Who's Hot, Who's Not

The time will soon come to see how International Star stacks up with those perceived as the elite of the division. On Saturday, though, he is clearly the horse to beat. His primary rivals are horses he just defeated in the Risen Star – War Story, Keen Ice, and St. Joe Bay – along with some newcomers to this circuit, Mr. Z and Stanford. It is a good intersectional rivalry, with horses shipping in from Arkansas, California, and Florida.

International Star on Wednesday drew the outside post in the field of nine. From the rail out, the field for the 1 1/8-mile race is Stanford, Mr. Z, Defondo, Fusaichi Flame, A Day In Paradise, War Story, Keen Ice, St. Joe Bay, and International Star, who is the 3-1 favorite on the morning line set by Mike Diliberto of Fair Grounds.

The Louisiana Derby goes as race 11 on a marathon 14-race card that begins at 12:30 p.m. Central.

The wins in the Lecomte, Risen Star, and last year’s Grey Stakes at Woodbine have helped International Star amass 71 qualifying points, securing him a spot in the Kentucky Derby. His last two races have been his best two races in terms of how he looked visually – fearlessly knifing through narrow holes with instant acceleration – and on paper, with career-best Beyer Speed Figures. Those performances also coincided with a switch in riders to Miguel Mena.

Maker said the Lecomte was a “pleasant surprise.” International Star had not raced since a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill and was 9-1.

“He was stopped at the top of the stretch, but then he got through, and he duplicated that in the Risen Star,” Maker said. “He was more impressive.”

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

Maker is based in Florida for the winter but said he chose the Fair Grounds series of Derby preps because he thought this track would best suit International Star’s late-running style.

The spacing of races at Fair Grounds is ideal, too, with five weeks between the Lecomte and Risen Star, five weeks then to the Louisiana Derby, and then another five weeks to the Kentucky Derby.

“He’s a light horse, kind of feminine,” Maker said of International Star, a son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, “but he’s carrying his weight well now and looks really well.”

International Star arrived here late Wednesday morning. Maker said his deportment has made it easy to ship him to so many different places. Saturday’s race will be the ninth of his career, and he has competed at six tracks, in two countries, and in three different time zones.

“He’s a good shipper,” Maker said. “That gives you plenty of options. He doesn’t get nervous about anything.

“He’s very professional, laid-back around the barn, more playful than trying to hurt you.”

His most entertaining quirk is that he likes to pick at his hay rack, chew on it, and spit it on the ground. Maker joked that it was the equine equivalent of “chewing tobacco.”

If International Star wins, he will give Maker and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey consecutive wins in the Louisiana Derby. They won it last year with Vicar’s in Trouble. But International Star is going for a hat trick in this series, while Vicar’s in Trouble won the Lecomte, was third in the Risen Star, then rebounded with a victory in the Louisiana Derby.

Vicar’s in Trouble had an up-and-down 2014. He finished last of 19 in the Kentucky Derby, later in the year won the Super Derby, but was injured when finishing last in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and has been off since. He is recuperating at the Ramseys’ farm in Kentucky, and Maker said he is expected to return to racing later this year.

What makes International Star far more intriguing than the speedy Vicar’s in Trouble is that he sits and finishes.

“They’re complete opposites,” Maker said. “Vicar was stockier; this horse is longer, leaner. International Star, you can place him where you need to.”

That tractability has come in handy this winter and will be of paramount importance five weeks hence at Churchill Downs. International Star has been a lot of places, Churchill included, and he’s already booked passage there again.

Jerry Moynihan More than 1 year ago
opened my eyes. i always look for an 0verlay in the derby and have been pretty lucky beating the favorite. international star is my choice this year. nice informative article.
Ian GW More than 1 year ago
Hope they bring in the A team stewards because they missed the 10th today bad. The 6 and 3 was either dead heat or 6 but gave it to the 3? Wow. Scared to play when I see this stuff. Showed the line on the photo dh or 6. Not sure how they missed that.
Mike Rutledge More than 1 year ago
I have Mr Z & War Story futures bets, both around 40-1 This race should give me some idea how those bets might work out. I expect a big race out of Mr Z have not seen PPs for War Story yet. Can't pick the Derby untill I see PPs for that race. Should be some great preps coming up. Good luck to all!
tommy More than 1 year ago
That's a steal you got for mr. z but you should have got firing line at 35-1 . War story is a donkey !
tommy More than 1 year ago
International star is a star!! Mr. Z !!!!! I love you guys!!!! In pick 3 include long shots and if you play superfecta put mr z and international star and you should be safe!! War story and keen ice are not going anywhere, unless the race is fixed and they will win!!
Scott More than 1 year ago
International Star is definitely flying under the radar and I have to say I'm not sold completely on his chances on Derby Day. However, there is one thing that makes him very hard not to consider is his willingness to go through a tight hole. There have been much more visually appealing wins than his last race this year (Carpe Diem and American Pharaoh just toying with their respective fields or what about Far From Over's come from behind in the Withers?), but none showed that sometimes vital ability to squeeze through a tight hole when you have to. International Star is one tough horse and with likely double digit odds in the Derby, I might cover him and hope the big dogs run each other into the ground and allow him to slide up the rail.
tommy More than 1 year ago
International star is guaranteed in superfecta at the kentucky derby, but Dortmund, American pharaoh, far right, upstart are NOT !!
Debbie Gardner More than 1 year ago
Mr. Z will crush International Star and the rest of the field in the La. Derby. He has faced much tougher completion, blinkers off and a jockey change and Lucas has him locked, loaded and ready to shoot out of the gate like a rocket on 4 legs! I just hope Privman convinces enough bettors to bet on Int. Star and it helps keep Mr. Z'z odds up some.
Bbrizz More than 1 year ago
Sorry Deb but I think you're wrong. No doubt Z could take a step up but Doubtful he'll wind up in the winners circle. International Star is the real deal.
Robynrokn More than 1 year ago
If you're a Mr Z fan , get down to track level in the stretch because he will be veering out to see you. And if your horse is racing him, better hope your jock takes him inside the Z.
scott maly More than 1 year ago
good when he veers out international star will come right up the rail
bill More than 1 year ago
Hmm, my Derby favorite, Prospect Park, also likes to check out the crowd... Not a great trait for Derby day so I hope he matures by then..
Marc Estrich More than 1 year ago
Maybe they're just trying to get to the best place on the track...like Frankie on Swain in the BC Classic when he finished in the advantageous 21 path.
Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
they weave out because there tired
Paul F More than 1 year ago
he veerd out cause jon court stuck him in the ribs with whip, lucas not happy ,