02/21/2015 7:53PM

International Star shows heart in winning Risen Star

Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography
International Star wins the Risen Star Stakes by one length Saturday at Fair Grounds.

NEW ORLEANS – Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and trainer Mike Maker got the Lecomte Stakes and the Louisiana Derby last year with Vicar’s In Trouble, and on Saturday at Fair Grounds, they took down the one major 3-year-old stakes here they missed in 2014 as International Star won the Risen Star by one length over War Story.

International Star is two-thirds of the way to a sweep of the local sophomore dirt-route stakes, having already captured the Lecomte. Unlike Vicar’s In Trouble, a fast frontrunner, International Star does his best work racing from behind, but in appearance, the two share traits. Both are small horses, lighter made, and not the type to catch the eye.

“He’s not much to look at, but he has a big heart,” said winning rider Miguel Mena.

Mena had much to do with the victory. Breaking from post 9, he scooted over the rail before getting halfway around the clubhouse turn, and there, he and International Star remained planted. The little colt is brave. Twice he brushed up against the fence, and his sustained rally required squeezing through two tight holes, the last of which brought him past the pace-setting St. Joe Bay and up to the front, where he out-finished War Story.

“I don’t know why, but he likes being on the rail,” Mena said. “He doesn’t even try to check himself when it gets tight.”

Victory in the Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star earned International Star 50 more qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby, giving him 71. He is in the Derby if he can make it there.

“I’m delirious,” said Ken Ramsey, watching from Gulfstream Park. “I turned around and sang ‘My Old Kentucky Home.’ ”

Kent Desormeaux, riding War Story, claimed foul on Mena, alleging interference on the first turn when Mena angled to the rail and crossed in front of Desormeaux. The claim was disallowed, but War Story ran well in defeat and earned 20 more Derby qualifying points himself.

“I had the same trip as the winner, but I had to come around, and he cut the corner, and that was the difference,” Desormeaux said.

War Story, for the second straight race, broke poorly, while St. Joe Bay was away well and took the lead, with Hero of Humor coming up to press the pace through quick splits of 23.29 seconds and 47.08. Tiznow R J sat the perfect trip in third, but none of the early leaders had a say at the finish. War Story appeared to have the better momentum while wide at the five-sixteenths pole, but International Star found his best stride at the same time and motored home a winner. He ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.82 and paid $9.60 to win.

“Last time, he made the lead and got lost, and today, he was a little less lost when he got there,” said Mena. “I think there’s more in the tank.”

Trainer Mike Maker said from Florida that International Star, if all was well, would return for the Louisiana Derby. Though Maker runs a Fair Grounds string, the colt went back to Florida to train after the Lecomte and will do so again now.

Keen Ice, ninth in the early going, rallied for third, ahead of St. Joe Bay, and galloped out strongly.

“I just ran out of real estate,” said jockey James Graham.

The 3-2 favorite Imperia disappointed, chugging home a one-paced fifth.

“He just really struggled,” said jockey Mike Smith. “As long as he was in hand, he was fine, but when I went to ask him, he just floundered.”

Bluff was sixth and was followed by Tiznow R J, Big Big Easy, and Hero of Humor.

International Star, by Fusaichi Pegasus and out of the French Deputy mare Parlez, was an $85,000 yearling purchase. He won the Grey Stakes on Polytrack last year at Woodbine, and though ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, he was beaten just more than three lengths after breaking from post 11. Maker thinks he ran the colt back too quickly after that when he finished fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club, some five lengths behind Imperia. His record now stands at 4-2-0 from eight starts with earnings of $560,979.

--additional reporting by Mike Welsch