Before Saturday’s field of 3-year-olds in the 102nd running of the Grade II $750,000 Louisiana Derby can qualify for the Kentucky Derby, the other contenders must find a way to overcome International Star.
Yet the product of trainer Mike Maker has proved in two preps for the first leg of the 2015 Triple Crown that accomplishing such a feat is daunting.
That’s why International Star is the lone thoroughbred entering Saturday’s 11?8-mile race within clear reach of Churchill Downs on May 2, having compiled 71 points — second nationally in Kentucky Derby points standings — after wins in the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes in January and the Grade II $400,000 Risen Star last month. El Kabeir (75) tops the points list.
Racing starts at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Fair Grounds.
“My horse is healthy and happy,” Maker said. “He’s ready for the race trip. We expect another big effort from him.”
During both stakes races, the New York-bred son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, far from a favorite in either, charged from behind near the back stretch to ruin performances by two-time second-place finisher Chris Dunn’s War Story, part of Saturday’s field of eight, and others. On Saturday, International Star will start from the outside with returning rider Miguel Mena, and Maker is expecting more of the same.
International Star is seeking to become the first horse to sweep those three graded stakes races since Fox Hill Farm’s Larry Jones-trained Friesan Fire in 2009.
The Louisiana Derby winner likely will earn a spot in the Kentucky Derby. The top 20 points earners receive berths.
War Story will try to pen a new tale with his third rider in three stakes, this time teaming with Louisiana native Joe Talamo. Still, the product of trainer Tom Amoss is expected to enter the gate at the Fair Grounds with International Star as the favorite.
Zayat Stables’ D. Wayne Lukas-trained Mr. Z is coming off a third-place finish in the Feb. 22 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Donegal Racing’s Keen Ice finished third in the Risen Star. Stanford, under trainer Todd Pletcher, has garnered momentum from previous performances while disappointing in the Islamorada Stakes at Gulfstream (disqualified).
A Day in Paradise offers trainer Larry Jones a chance at the Kentucky Derby, while Defondo, Fusaichi Flame and St. Joe Bay (which set the pace in the Risen Star before finishing fourth) round out the field.
The Louisiana Derby’s field of eight marks one of the smallest of the past decade, a likely combination of the decreased purse — last year’s peaked at $1 million — to trainers opting for different roads to Churchill Downs.
“You had a lot of factors,” said Jason Boulet, racing secretary at the Fair Grounds. “The Bluegrass at Keeneland went back to dirt, for example. There are more point options out there this year. … We’d like to have the money back to $1 million, but unfortunately we don’t.”
One memorable race at the New Orleans oval, though, could change the Louisiana Derby’s impact on the Kentucky Derby.