02/22/2015 2:02PM

Road to Derby analysis: Risen Star

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Lou Hodges, Jr./Hodges Photography
International Star, with celebrating jockey Miguel Mena, got a 93 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Risen Star,

Grade 2, $400,000 Risen Star Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Fair Grounds, Feb. 21, 2015

 (50 Derby qualifying points for a win, 20 for second, 10 for third, 5 for fourth)

 Winner: International Star

 Trainer: Mike Maker

 Jockey: Miguel Mena

 Owner: Ken and Sarah Ramsey

 Beyer Speed Figure: 93

 All hail INTERNATIONAL STAR, who with this win became the first horse to win three Kentucky Derby scoring races. He previously won the Grey Stakes in October on Polytrack at Woodbine, and last month’s Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds.

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

 In both the Lecomte and here in the Risen Star, International Star performed on dirt like a turf horse. He sat inside, then showed quick and immediate acceleration when it was time to go. He’s quite the handy little horse, and he seems to get along ideally with jockey Miguel Mena, whose only two race rides on International Star have been in the Lecomte and Risen Star.

 International Star had a rail draw in the Lecomte. In this race, he broke from the outside post in a field of nine. He was three paths wide heading into the first turn, but was able to get to the rail by midway around the first turn and stayed there the rest of the way. International Star showed keen acceleration on the final turn inside of BLUFF to advance from sixth into a contending position behind the leaders, then came through a narrow opening along the rail inside ST. JOE BAY in upper stretch and safely held off WAR STORY in the final sixteenth.

 International Star briefly swapped to his wrong lead about 50 yards from the finish, then quickly went back to his proper lead. He also had to survive an objection lodged by Kent Desormeaux, the rider of War Story, alleging interference on the first turn. The stewards made no change.

War Story finished second after an adventurous pre-race journey. In a strange decision, he had been sent to Oaklawn for the Southwest, which offers one-fifth the points of the Risen Star. But when that race was postponed for six days by poor weather, he returned to Fair Grounds, where he had made two prior starts, including a second in the Lecomte. This is where he should have been all along, and he ran another good race, made all the more impressive by his travel itinerary the previous week.

 In the Risen Star, War Story broke a step slow and was last away from the gate, was on the rail heading into the first turn, switched out after International Star moved over, then raced outside International Star for much of the backstretch run. On the far turn, War Story began an extended run while three paths wide. He split TIZNOW R J and BIG BIG EASY on the turn, was fanned about four or five paths wide into the stretch, and kept to his task the length of the stretch. He’s a solid, thoroughly admirable performer, who, with just four starts so far, still has upside.

KEEN ICE, who finished third, was three paths wide entering the first turn, started to advance from last down the backstretch while inside IMPERIA, but had to idle in traffic from the half-mile pole to the midway point on the far turn. He was then taken inside and followed International Star into the lane, switched out, and finished evenly. He too is improving.

 ST. JOE BAY, who was fourth, broke sharply from his inside draw and went for the lead while shadowed by longshot HERO OF HUMOR. He set legitimate two-turn fractions for Fair Grounds of 23.29 seconds for the opening quarter and 47.08 seconds for a half-mile, put away his pace nemesis, and fought on bravely through the lane and just did get touched out late for third by Keen Ice. Considering the race shape, this was his best effort yet. If shrewdly managed, he could pick off some lucrative, second-tier prizes.

 IMPERIA, favored off his runner-up finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club last November to end his 2-year-old campaign, disappointed in his 3-year-old debut while finishing fifth. He was taken to the middle of the track down the backstretch, raced outside Keen Ice initially on the far turn, followed War Story into the lane, but never punched it in despite aggressive encouragement from jockey Mike Smith in upper stretch. There was no point in the race where he appeared to be a threat.

 BLUFF, who finished sixth, secured an inside position early while racing in midpack, had no acceleration when International Star came past him on the inside on the far turn, and pretty much went one-paced the rest of the way.

 TIZNOW R J was third in the Lecomte, but, unlike International Star and War Story, did not reproduce that form and finished seventh. He could not have gotten a better trip, sitting third behind the two leaders, and then ranging up nearing the quarter pole. But he failed to fire, was late to change leads, and retreated through the lane in a very disappointing effort.

 BIG BIG EASY, who finished eighth, was three paths wide on the first turn, remained wide down the backstretch, ended up four wide on the final turn, then was out-footed while facing the best field he had ever seen.

 HERO OF HUMOR wound up last of nine after pressuring St. Joe Bay for the first six furlongs, then retreating while failing to change leads through the lane.