NEW ORLEANS — When 135-1 longshot Ive Struck a Nerve won the $400,000, Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course — and virtually ensuring himself a spot in the Kentucky Derby — national horse-racing pundits were, well, flabbergasted.
“All I can say about Ive Struck a Nerve is, ‘Wow,’” reported HRTV correspondent Peter Lurie.
Added fellow reporter Zoe Cadman: “Certainly wow.”
The print media was even more to the point.
“To many the victory will seem like a fluke,” wrote the Daily Racing Form’s Marcus Hersh, “and time might prove it so.”
However, Hersh added Ive Struck a Nerve’s remarkable and shocking performance Saturday might compare favorably with higher-profile 3-year-olds across the country. Plus, he wrote, the recent assumption of the reins by jockey James Graham led to an improved, more relaxed running style that contributed to Nerve’s Risen Star victory.
Now that Saturday’s dust has settled, the question must be posed: Is this horse for real?
Other Fair Grounds trainers were complimentary but cautionary, especially with more than two months before the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.
“The horse ran a good race, but it’s still very early in the spring to decide what horse (has a shot to win the Kentucky Derby),” said Tom Amoss, whose mount Mylute placed seventh in the Risen Star. “(Nerve’s) name will come up, but there’s still a lot to do to determine who is a legitimate contender.”
Local trainer Al Stall Jr., who didn’t have a horse in the Risen Star but observed the race, said Nerve’s future remains a mystery. Stall said the Risen Star was a smoothly run contest with a fairly fast pace, which might indicate Ive Struck a Nerve does have potential.
“I wouldn’t call it a total fluke at all, but whether he can repeat it at the Louisiana Derby, I don’t know,” Stall said. “I’m not 100 percent sold on him, but I’m not saying he won’t win the next race, either.”
Even Ive Struck a Nerve’s own trainer, J. Keith Desormeaux, said thoughts of the Kentucky Derby are still premature.
“There’s still a long way to go,” Desormeaux said. “There’s still 10 weeks between now and the Kentucky Derby.”
And, he acknowledges, heading into the Risen Star, Nerve’s underdog status could be excused because of his relative lack of success at longer distances and his low profile.
“It was understandable that he was underrated coming in,” Desormeaux said. “On the surface, the fact that he wasn’t respected was understandable.”
It won’t be long until the world finds out whether the miracle mount is indeed a fluke or the real deal. Desormeaux and owner Matthew Bryan plan to run in the Fair Grounds’ $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 30, and the spotlight will be very hot. It’ll be the 100th running of Louisiana’s premier thoroughbred race, and the media that’s now pontificating about the possibilities will no doubt descend upon New Orleans.
Even though Desormeaux said Ive Struck a Nerve likely won’t compete in any other races between the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby, some might doubt whether it’s a good idea to risk running the 3-year-old if he’s already virtually locked up a spot at Churchill Downs.
But Desormeaux said the Louisiana Derby’s $1 million purse is just too juicy to forego.
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t (run March 30),” he said. “It’s obviously nice (to get to Louisville), but there’s still 10 weeks until the Kentucky Derby, and when they’re offering a $1 million right in your own backyard in just five weeks, it’s hard to pass up.”
Plus, Desormeaux added, he plans to keep Nerve’s workouts light.
“I would never overwork him or push him too hard,” he said.
All eyes will be on Ive Struck a Nerve come March 30, when either Nerve’s bloom will wear off a bit, or his reputation will be boosted considerably.
And to seasoned racing pros, one big victory like the one Saturday aren’t, after all, that uncommon, and sometimes underdogs are actually for real.
“I was very surprised,” Amoss said of Nerve’s Risen Star effort. “But I’ve been in horse racing long enough to know things like this happen, so I wasn’t completely shocked. He ran a good race.”