NEW ORLEANS — International Star trainer Mike Maker suggested that he might take some dirt from the Fair Grounds Race Course and sprinkle it on the famed track at Churchill Downs.
Given International Star's dominance in New Orleans, why not?
Jockey Miguel Mena guided International Star to a come-from-behind victory Saturday in the $750,000 Grade II Louisiana Derby, giving the horse a sweep of all three Kentucky Derby prep races held at the Fair Grounds.
"We got another good trip, had a clean run," Mena said. "He was the best horse in the race again today."
International Star may not be among the favorites heading into the Triple Crown, but Maker sounded confident that his horse, with career winnings now at $1.01 million, has a shot to win the Kentucky Derby.
"Definitely," Maker said. "He's a special horse. ... I might take some of the dirt from Fair Grounds up to Kentucky with us."
Breaking from the outside post as a 2-1 co-favorite, International Star settled along the rail in the back half of the nine-horse field. He then methodically worked forward before surging in front down the final stretch and beating Stanford by a neck. His winning time in the 1 1/8-mile race was 1:50.67.
"Next stop: Kentucky!" exclaimed Internal Star's owner, Ken Ramsey.
War Story, the other co-favorite ridden by Joe Talamo, finished third.
The Louisiana Derby victory earned International Star $450,000. He paid $6.60, $3.60 and $2.60, adding the Louisiana Derby to victories in the Grade II Risen Star Stakes in February and Grade III Lecomte Stakes in January.
Stanford returned $7 and $4.80, and War Story paid $2.80.
War Story had finished a close second in both the Risen Star and Lecomte, and trainer Tom Amoss was confident his horse was strong enough to win the marquee race of the Fair Grounds traditional winter meet. The betters were as well. War Story was 4-1 co-second favorite, along with Mr. Z, when he drew the sixth post last Wednesday. But as post time approached on Saturday evening, bettors made War Story a co-favorite. Mr. Z, with Kent Desormeaux aboard, went off as the third choice at 3-1 and was second entering the final turn, but seemed to give out on the stretch and finished last.
Talamo settled War Story just in front of International Star in the first turn. As he entered the stretch, War Story was third, virtually alongside International Star and just two lengths behind Stanford, a 7-1 underdog who set the pace from the time he broke from the rail until the final stretch.
As International Star made his move to reel in Stanford, War Story could not keep up, finishing 4 1/2 lengths back.
"I'm still evaluating how he ran," Amoss said, remaining non-committal about whether War Story would enter the Kentucky Derby. "On the surface, you have say that we were closer to International Star last time than we were this time and the pace wasn't nearly as fast as last time. I have some positive thoughts about the race and the bottom line is that we got him to break better from the gate."
Stanford was guided by jockey Florent Geroux, who was pleased to see his horse nearly hold on for a wire-to-wire win.
"We had a great start and I just let him go and relax," Geroux said. "He gave me a good feeling. You have to give credit to winner. He's three-for-three and a very good horse."