International Star knows what it means to miss New Orleans. One year after kicking off his sophomore season with a slashing victory in the Lecomte (G3), Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s colorbearer returned to Fair Grounds to regain the winning thread in the $75,000 Louisiana S. The Mike Maker trainee blew past 8-5 favorite Eagle and bounded 1 1/2 lengths clear, remaining perfect from four career appearances over the historic Gentilly oval.
The first three of those wins comprised a sweep of Fair Grounds’ road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), adding the 2015 Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) to his Lecomte heroics. But International Star missed his chance to compete in the Run for the Roses thanks to hoof trouble, and scratched on Derby morning. A few days later, he was diagnosed with an ankle chip, and a hairline knee fracture.
Resurfacing from an eight-month layoff in the November 25 Zia Park Derby, International Star ran well below form in fourth, beaten 13 lengths. Maker chalked it up to a stressful process of vanning all the way from Louisville to New Mexico, regrouped, and pointed to Fair Grounds, where the newly turned 4-year-old was very much at home. He also reunited with jockey Miguel Mena for the first time since their unbeatable partnership here last spring.
International Star was patiently handled in fifth as Majestic Harbor strode forward, pressed by Coup de Grace through splits of :24.46, :48.42 and 1:13.10 on the fast track. Ride on Curlin advanced into contention between them turning for home, and Eagle swooped wider out.
Then a rugby match broke out to Eagle’s inside, with Coup de Grace crowding Ride on Curlin, who in turn collided hard with Majestic Harbor, forcing him into the rail. Fortunately, the trio all stayed on their feet throughout the repeated barging, although Majestic Harbor never recovered and dropped back to fifth.
Meanwhile, International Star was well clear of the fracas, and overhauled Eagle in a few strides. The 5-2 third choice completed 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.44 and returned $7.80.
Eagle was no match on this day, but note that he was lumping the top weight of 124 pounds – six more than International Star. A rematch on better terms could help Eagle, who himself drew off by 6 1/4 lengths from Ride on Curlin.
Ride on Curlin dug in determinedly to best Coup de Grace by a neck for third. Ride on Curlin’s jockey, Pat Valenzuela, claimed foul against Brian Hernandez Jr. aboard Eagle, alleging that his rally caused the chain reaction of interference. The stewards posted an inquiry themselves and determined that Coup de Grace was the culprit. Accordingly, Coup de Grace was demoted from fourth to fifth, and his chief victim, Majestic Harbor, elevated to fourth.
International Star is now a stakes winner in all three seasons of racing, and the Fusaichi Pegasus colt promises to keep adding to his resume of 11-6-2-0, $1,066,629. As a versatile juvenile, he garnered the Grey (G3) on Woodbine’s Polytrack and placed in the With Anticipation (G2) on Saratoga’s turf as well as the Rockville Centre on Belmont’s main track.
The $125,000 Colonel E.R. Bradley (G3) likewise went to a horse-for-the-course, 4-5 favorite Chocolate Ride, who racked up his fifth straight win over the Stall-Wilson Turf.
An improver since being claimed by Brad Cox in November 2014, the Candy Ride gelding wired last spring’s Fair Grounds (G3) and Mervin H. Muniz Jr. (G2) (the latter in course-record time). He’ll be tough to catch again in the track’s marquee turf events, judging by his comeback win here November 27 and by his determined score in the Bradley.
Chocolate Ride wasn’t in any particular hurry, but his natural speed, and inside post, enabled him to gain control through fractions of :23.63, :48.53 and 1:12.40. Sky Flight pestered him in the early going, but couldn’t stay with him. When jockey Florent Geroux asked Chocolate Ride in earnest in the stretch, he responded to pull away. He’d been in front a long while, however, on a rain-affected course (labeled “good”), under the top weight of 122 pounds. Roman Approval and Blarp both gained late, but Chocolate Ride kept finding more and summoned a snappy final sixteenth in :6.33. Three-quarters of a length on top at the wire, he finished 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.21.
A half-brother to Grade 1 winner Killer Graces, Chocolate Ride sports a mark of 15-6-2-2, $446,191. The $260,000 Keeneland September yearling was originally trained by Mark Casse for John C. Oxley, prior to the claim. He now races for Wentworth Brochu.
Cox also captured the day’s other turf stakes, the $60,000 Marie G. Krantz Memorial, with Elm Racing’s Street of Gold. The 3-2 favorite off her near-miss in the December 19 Blushing K. D. over the course, the Street Sense mare uncorked a furious charge to collar longtime leader Mizz Money in the shadow of the post.
Mizz Money’s effort in defeat underscores the merit of Chocolate Ride’s front-running performance. Accompanying Masquerade through splits of :23.95 and :49.09, Mizz Money grabbed sole command at the six-furlong mark in 1:13.44 and kicked away. But she couldn’t maintain her advantage, and yielded to Street of Gold by a half-length.
Street of Gold negotiated 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.94, upping her line to 34-5-4-6, $273,975. The winner of Gulfstream’s Amelia Island (a non-black-type event) last May, she owns six stakes placings, including the 2014 Modesty (G3) and the July 5 Spook Express – to Saturday’s Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf winner, Lori’s Store.
Photos courtesy of Amanda Hodges Weir/Hodges Photography.