International Star wins Louisiana Derby _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Jockey Miguel Mena celebrates his win in the Louisiana Derby aboard International Star owned by Kenneth Ramsey, bottom right, to qualify for the Kentucky Derby at the Fair Grounds on Saturday.

Time for a crawdads celebration.

Yeah, yeah. We know they’re called crawfish here in Louisiana.

But let’s give Kentucky-born thoroughbred owner Ken Ramsey a pass after his latest four-legged pride and joy thrilled the Fair Grounds crowd on Saturday afternoon with another late burst, this time earning a spot on American horse racing’s national stage during the first week of May.

International Star, by virtue of a win over Stanford by a neck in the Grade II $750,000 Louisiana Derby, is heading to the 141st Kentucky Derby. The victory in the 1 1/8 mile race completed his sweep of Kentucky Derby preps at the New Orleans oval, the first since Friesan Fire in 2009.

Starting from position nine, International Star spent most of the race far from Stanford, the pace setter. With three-fourths of the race complete, he started his move from sixth to second, starting another backstretch sprint.

International Star paid $6.60, $3.60 and $2.60.

So what if International Star, New York-bred and trained by Mike Maker in Florida, entered Saturday second in the Kentucky Derby points standings and much lower in power rankings. So what if his rider, Miguel Mena, lacks a crucial first piece of the Triple Crown on his résumé.

“We believe more in performance than we do potential,” said Ramsey, who is taking his sixth thoroughbred to the Kentucky Derby. “Because everybody’s got potential, potential, potential. But when you perform ...”

They’re all heading to Churchill Downs.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in this horse, and I think it’s right for the Kentucky Derby,” Mena said.

Three Kentucky Derby prep races at the Fair Grounds, and three fantastic finishes. Although this time, it was Todd Pletcher-trained Stanford, not International Star’s two-time, second-place Kentucky Derby prep rival War Story, to be nipped late.

“As of right now, I would assume the connections would want to go to the Derby, but there’s a lot to be seen in how he comes out of this,” said Adele Bellinger, Pletcher’s assistant trainer.

“He broke nice and straight and was nice and easy on the lead. He just couldn’t quite hold on.”

War Story, owned by Loooch Racing Stables and Chris Dunn and trained by Tom Amoss, finished third.

Stanford paid $7 and $4.80, and War Story returned $2.80.

All three will have a solid shot at earn a position on May 2.

“We ran third today, and the separation between us and the winner was more than last the last race. That’s a disappointment,” Amoss said. “We’ll try to figure out what we want to do for the next race, whatever that may be. I’ll have to talk to the owners (about the Kentucky Derby).”

Keen Ice finished fourth, with Fusaichi Flame and St. Joy Bay training. Defondo, A Day in Paradise and Mr. Z rounded out the field of nine.

Yet International Star, the son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, won the day, and likely some national fans. He won’t be a favorite at Churchill Downs, but may have accomplished enough to not be a long shot either.

“If I can win the Kentucky Derby, that would be the icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae or whatever,” Ramsey said, “for an old Kentucky boy like myself.”

International Star, skilled at coming off the pace and performing on multiple surfaces, is poised to become Ramsey’s sixth horse to reach the Kentucky Derby. His best finish so far was eighth in 2003 with Ten Cents A Shine.

The Ramsey/Maker combination has now won five of the past six Kentucky Derby preps at the Fair Grounds. Last season, Vicar’s in Trouble, ridden by now-retired Rosie Napravnik, won the Lecomte and Louisiana Derby before finishing 19th in the Kentucky Derby.

“The Triple Crown is within sight,” Ramsey said.