You don't win anything for having the most Kentucky Derby qualifying points, and it does nothing for you once you are in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. It does provide a few bragging rights, though - so International Star has at least one thing going for him. Now he and his connections just need to accomplish one more thing - getting this year's Kentucky Derby moved from Churchill Downs to Fair Grounds in New Orleans. It shouldn't be that hard - the same parent company owns both tracks. International Star looked pretty average in his only race at Churchill Downs, finishing fourth in a field that wasn't overwhelming in the Kentucky Juvenile Cup in late November. His three races since then have been at Fair Grounds, though, and he has been unbeatable. As the eighth choice in current futures odds at +1600, oddsmakers seem pessimistic that he can transfer his current form elsewhere.
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Louisiana Derby: There was a lot to like about this winning effort. He settled well off the pace early on and looked comfortable doing so. He slowly weaved his way up to the front, locked on to pace-setter Stanford in the stretch, and dueled him for a tight win. Solid. Professional. It came against a field that could have as many as four other Derby horses in it besides this one, too, so it was respectable. In a perfect world I would have liked to have seen him need less urging down the stretch from jockey Miguel Mena, but the final furlong was reasonably fast, so it's not like he was fading too badly. He showed a lot of heart in the battle, and you can't count that out on Derby day. He also moved through traffic nicely and adjusted from the rail to outside when needed - something that will be very important on Derby day. As final preps go it was solid. Not overwhelming or life-changing, but solid. The oddsmakers have it about right, in other words.
Prior experience: I always complain about horses not getting enough experience before the Kentucky Derby, but that certainly doesn't apply here. The Derby will be his 10 th-career start - likely right near the top for the field this year. While the Star part of his name might be a bit premature, the international part fits. In his fourth-career outing he earned his first stakes victory in the Grey Stakes at Woodbine in Toronto. Recently, that race is best known because the 2008 winner, and 2009 Kentucky Derby winner, was none other than Mine That Bird. Three of his first five career starts were on turf, but that experiment was given up after a dismal ninth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. That race was followed by the disappointment at Churchill, and it seemed like maybe the horse had talent but just hadn't found his place. But then came the move to Fair Grounds, and everything changed. He won the Le Comte pretty easily despite getting stuck on the rail at one point and then won a big duel in the Risen Star. His biggest foe at Fair Grounds - twice finishing second and winding up third in the Louisiana Derby - was War Story. International Star will likely face that foe again in the Kentucky Derby as that horse moved to Churchill to prepare for battle soon after the Louisiana Derby.
Trainer: The horse is in good hands with Mike Maker. Starting in 1993, Maker spent a decade as a top assistant for D. Wayne Lukas - where he overlapped for a couple of years with Todd Pletcher, among many others. Maker worked with many great horses and gained plenty of Triple Crown experience as the lead hand with Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic. On his own since 2003, he has not yet won a Triple Crown race, but he has been in the Derby twice - with Stately Victor in 2010, and with 2011 two-year-old champion Hansen in 2012. Neither appearance went particularly well, but this horse is easier to like heading into the Derby than either of those were.
Jockey: Miguel Mena has gotten the call for his last three starts, and I would be shocked if he wasn't on board again. He has not won a Triple Crown race, or a whole lot of top-level races, but he is having the best year of his career so far, and he obviously fits well with the horse. It wouldn't be my first choice as a jockey, but chemistry in the saddle matters more than anything.
Breeding: International Star will try to put together a four-race winning streak by taking the Derby. His sire, Fusaichi Pegasus, won five straight capped by the 2000 Kentucky Derby. Fusaichi Pegasus hasn't been as dominant in the breeding shed as he was on the track, but he has had some solid success, and stamina hasn't been a concern. His damsire, French Deputy, brings plenty of stamina influence to the table as well. The Derby distance isn't a particular concern for this horse - at least not based on his bloodlines.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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