No need to wait for a third — the second time might be the charm for thoroughbred owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey.
International Star, a 9-1 shot, found an opening and finished fast Saturday during the 71st running of the Grade III $200,000 Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds, earning his owners their second victory in this Kentucky Derby prep race in as many years.
Starting from the inside post with rider Miguel Mena, he had the legs early to stay within reach of the leaders and late to catch, then outpace his nearest rivals — Tom Amoss trainee War Story — winning by 21/2 lengths.
“I was a little bit nervous there, about the eighth pole,” said Dallas King, an assistant to trainer Mike Maker. “He was sitting there waiting, had nowhere to go. Miguel got him out just in time. The horse finished up very well. He ran really big today.”
Last year, Vicar’s in Trouble dominated the Lecomte, riding that momentum to Churchill Downs, where he finished the first leg of the Triple Crown in last place.
Now it’s International Star’s chance to take advantage of winning the Lecomte, the first step in reaching the Louisiana Derby and, possibly, the Kentucky Derby. It’s his opportunity to live up to his name. It’s his chance to follow his father, 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.
Saturday’s strong finish showcased his potential.
Mena, who rode International Star to his second victory in six starts, said he stayed close to Another Lemon Drop (fourth), ridden by Calvin Borel, until he was ready to make a move.
“He never got off the rail, so I had to will him out,” Mena said. “At the end, he wanted to pull up. This is a baby, you know. But this is a very nice horse. It’s not a small horse, but he goes through any hole.”
Lacking room inside, International Star made his move late, moving past War Story, ridden by meet-leading jockey James Graham and trained by Tom Amoss, a New Orleans native.
War Story’s last race was Dec. 28, not the normal period of rest Amoss prefers races.
“He ran great,” Amoss said. “(But he) broke poorly and was the widest of all turning for home. I’m looking forward to the Risen Star.”
Third-place finisher Tiznow RJ pushed the pace early, along with Hero of Humor, which faded to sixth.
The favorite, Eagle, finished seventh in an impressive field of 11 — considered by many the best field in recent memory. It was a setback for the product of trainer Neil Howard but, as long as Howard still has confidence in Eagle, the horse still has a chance to reach the Kentucky Derby, thanks to a sliding points scale that determines eligibility.