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Road to the Derby analysis: Louisiana Derby
Grade 2, $750,000 Louisiana Derby, 1 1/8 miles, Fair Grounds, March 28, 2015
(100 Derby qualifying points for a win, 40 for second, 20 for third, 10 for fourth)
Winner: International Star
Trainer: Mike Maker
Jockey: Miguel Mena
Owner: Ken and Sarah Ramsey
Beyer Speed Figure: 98
INTERNATIONAL STAR became the first horse to win four Kentucky Derby scoring races, and he completed a sweep of the three Derby preps at Fair Grounds with this victory in the Louisiana Derby. He won the Lecomte in January and the Risen Star in February at Fair Grounds to go along with his win at age 2 in the Grey Stakes at Woodbine. All his wins at Fair Grounds have come since Miguel Mena took over as his rider. They have proved a formidable team at Fair Grounds, but the competition figures to be much, much stronger in his next start, the Kentucky Derby.
As in the Risen Star, International Star drew the outside post in a field of nine, and Mena utilized the same early tactics. He was no more than three paths wide heading into the first turn and was able to drop closer to the rail as the field advanced around that turn. He was on the rail down the backstretch and into the far turn, and as in prior starts, he showed sharp acceleration to quickly advance toward the leaders.
International Star only had to come around one horse, the pacesetting STANFORD, entering the lane. Stanford held him off for much of the way down the lane, but International Star, under heavy right-handed punishment from Mena – he hit him 25 times through the stretch – got up. He swapped over to his left lead with a sixteenth of a mile to go, an indication he was tiring, but he sure was willing.
What’s admirable about International Star is that will to win, his handy, cat-like quickness, and the progression he has made in recent months. His Beyer Speed Figure in this race was a career best following a career best in the Risen Star and following a career best in the Lecomte. That’s the kind of progress you want to see in a Derby contender.
But this was a hard race on him. Mena asked him for everything and more, and while he got it, it’s a fair question to ask how that will impact International Star in the Derby. International Star is a small colt. The five weeks until the Derby will be beneficial, for this had to take a lot out of him.
Stanford, who started from the rail, broke well and went for the lead. He set moderate fractions of 24.03 seconds for the quarter, 48.59 for the half, and 1:13.27 for six furlongs, leaving him fresh for the initial challenge from International Star in upper stretch. He held him off until approaching the sixteenth pole, from where International Star inched away. This was certainly a good effort for Stanford, but it’s hard to imagine him having a more comfortable trip. He won’t get an easy lead like that in the Kentucky Derby, which is a furlong farther than this race.
WAR STORY, who was third, broke better than he ever has and saved ground around the first turn while within hailing distance of the leaders. He curiously was guided off the rail down the backstretch to end up four paths wide on the turn, surrendering the spot International Star seized. He was fanned about five paths wide into the lane and was about one length behind International Star in upper stretch but lost ground through the lane to the top two. He appears a cut below at this point.
KEEN ICE, who was fourth, has a late run that was compromised by the moderate early pace. He was eighth of nine into the first turn, was taken wide down the backstretch, and was widest of all entering the far turn, followed War Story into the lane, was late to swap leads in upper stretch, but kept to his task and earned 10 points. He may fall short on points for getting into the Derby. If he does get in, he actually might be a sneaky bomber for exotics, for a hot pace that he can run into will be of benefit. He didn’t get that here.
FUSAICHI FLAME, who finished fifth, broke well and drafted in behind Stanford along the rail heading around the first turn. He lost position heading to the three-furlong pole but tried to fight back along the rail, was fourth with a furlong, but couldn’t keep up late.
ST. JOE BAY, who had been on the lead in his last four races, was rated a bit heading into the first turn, and despite the moderate pace, he wound up in the three path, outside Stanford and MR. Z. He remained three wide down the backstretch and around the far turn, got within a length of Stanford with five-sixteenths to run, then tired to finish sixth.
DEFONDO, who was seventh, had front leg wraps for this race. He trailed into the first turn, advanced while appearing rank down the backstretch to run into some traffic nearing the far turn, dropped back to last again, was taken to the rail, was on his wrong lead for some of the stretch run, and made no impact.
A DAY IN PARADISE, who was eighth, raced just behind the leaders while in traffic and being restrained around the first turn, was asked to try to keep up going into the far turn, but dropped out of contention.
Mr. Z, who finished last of nine, was just behind and outside of Stanford heading into the first turn. He remained there until the far turn, where he had to be asked to hold his position chasing Stanford, with St. Joe Bay to his outside. He had no fight at the top of the lane and was virtually eased through the lane by a merciful Kent Desormeaux. I noted in the Smarty Jones analysis that his antics were a tell that he was headed the wrong way. Mr. Z now has lost 10 straight since a debut win in June.
I thought there was a limit as to how many times you could hit a horse. If there is, apparently it's more than 25.
My buddy Bill Ross and I met Ken Ramsey on Saturday at FG. He could not be a nicer and more down to earth guy. Best of luck to the Ramsey clan on Sat May 2!
Biggest surprise of the race: Mr Z - I really thought he would run a better race and was very surprised that he didn't press Stanford with how slow that one was going. Biggest disappointment: There is a tie in this instant for me - War Story - despite having the start they wanted was supposed to be on even terms with International Star according to his trainer. Sorry! Even with the odd choice to go wide in the stretch, he was clearly behind the eventual winner. The other disappointment goes to Keen Ice, but for a different reason - I'm sure his connections expected a pace battle to set up for his strong closing kick and it didn't happen. This horse definitely would be a long odd bomber in the Derby if he made the gate, but that seems unlikely now and that is very disappointing! Most overrated: Materiality - I can't believe how many people are pointing to Stanford's uncontested stroll on the front end that made International Star work to get by and saying that Materiality was able to crush him by 5 1/2 lengths and therefore is that much better than IS. Most impressive: International Star - Just another gutsy performance from a horse that is really starting to win me over. I can definitely see a scenario where the pace burns out all of the top contenders in this year's Derby. A horse that's 10 to 15 lengths back early can definitely pick up the pieces if they get too crazy up front.
Yes, I'm finally tossing out Mr. Z as a use under colt, even as much as I like Mr. Lucas. Mr. Z has just went the wrong way. Now, International Star would be a colt I could use on the bottom in tri's and supers, he gives an honest hard fought race every time, but I believe he is a well below the top ranked horses for the Ky. Derby.
I cant help but be impressed by this colt. Some things to like for sure. He's taking all the throw back, sits in tight quarters,seems really nimble and always fires. Stanford had easy splits and this colt ground out another win... Didnt like how bad Mena was hammering on him down the stretch but thats racing and actually a very good ride. If the derby comes up as I'm thinking with a ton of speed....who knows, this horse could be around at a big price.
Can we now finally stop considering Mr. Z to be a legitimate Derby contender?! Please!
International Star won't finish last in this year's Kentucky Derby but doubtful he will finish in the top quarter(1st five) as derby's pace will separate the men from the boys or the colts from the yearlings or the contenders from the pretenders .
Thanks Jay, I was not that high on IS coming in to this race (sad to say my emotions still had hope for Mr.Z, thank goodness I didn't bet) but after just watching the race on tape my goodness what a brilliant ride by Mena and IS was so gutsy, I do think he is a notch below the 5 or so top contenters, but now I would have to consider him of being in the mix at the end, as we know anything can happen and these two try so hard.....place and show maybe
Jay, as usual i like your analysis, your usually practical…. on another note, I don't get how a horse can't come back in 5 weeks rest with a short trip to KY. The KY Derby has to be the most taxing race for a 3 year old, 20 horses, longest distance they have ran and yet the winners and horses come back two weeks later to run well in the preakness almost every year against fresher horses….