Making the grade: International Star, winner of the Lecomte Stakes

International Star would love to follow in the hoofprints of his sire, Fusaichi Pegasus, and win the Kentucky Derby.

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Making the Grade, which will run through the 2015 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners of the big races, usually from the previous weekend, who could impact the next Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win important races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey) and pedigree.

This week we take a closer look at International Star, winner of the $200,000 Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 17 at Fair Grounds.

International Star got off to a flying start in his career with two wins and two seconds from his first four starts, including a Grade 3 win at Woodbine. But after a pair of unplaced finishes, his star appeared to shine a little bit less brightly. However, International Star got back on track on the Triple Crown trail with a dominant, 2½-length win in the Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 17 at Fair Grounds that elevated him to a first-place tie on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.

Ability: International Star flashed potential in his career debut at Belmont Park when he won a six-furlong turf race by 5½ lengths. He then finished a well-beaten second in the Rockville Centre Stakes on the main track at Belmont before returning to the grass for a runner-up finish to Startup Nation in the Grade 2 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. He earned a then-career-best 86 Equibase Speed Figure for the With Anticipation.

Trainer Mike Maker subsequently shipped International Star to Woodbine for the Grade 3 Grey Stakes on the synthetic Polytrack surface and he responded by closing from off the pace for a 1½-length victory that earned an 82 Equibase Speed Figure.

After the Grey Stakes, International Star faced the most difficult test of his career in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Sent off at 36.30-to-1 odds, he finished ninth but was only beaten by 3¼ lengths and earned a new top Equibase Speed Figure of 93. After finishing fourth, beaten by 5¾ lengths in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, International Star returned to the winner’s circle in the Lecomte and matched his career best with a 93 speed figure.

International Star was much the best in the Lecomte but still appeared a bit green in the stretch when he lugged in a bit and, according to jockey Miguel Mena, pulled himself up a bit after taking the lead.

From a speed-figure perspective, International Star has about 15 points worth of ground to make up on the best 3-year-olds. He does have plenty of time to improve, but with seven starts, including six with Equibase Speed Figures ranging from 82 to 93, it’s fair to wonder if he has as much room to grow as other less-experienced 3-year-olds.

Running Style: International Star showed some speed in his first two starts at six furlongs but since stretching out to longer races, he has raced off the pace and launched his bid on the final turn.

It’s always nice to see that flash of early speed in the past performances as it shows a horse is capable of using his speed for a tactical advantage if necessary in case of a slow pace. His ability to rate off the lead also is a plus as he is able to keep some gas in the tank for the stretch run.

He looks like a 3-year-old who might benefit greatly from a hot early pace in a key Kentucky Derby prep race or even in the first jewel of the Triple Crown. Usually, when you see a big longshot strike in the Derby, it is a closer who picks up the pieces when a torrid, early pace leaves much of the field running on fumes in the stretch.

Connections: International Star’s owners, Ken and Sarah Ramsey, won their fourth Eclipse Award as outstanding owner in 2014. The Ramseys also picked up their second consecutive Eclipse Award as outstanding breeder. The couple has enjoyed sustained success at all levels, including three wins at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. The Ramseys have won leading owner titles at Keeneland, Saratoga Race Course, Gulfstream Park, Ellis Park, Turfway Park, and hold the record at Churchill Downs with most owner titles won in the 135-year history of the track, but they remain in search of an elusive victory in the Kentucky Derby. Ramsey runners are winless with six starters in the Kentucky Derby. Ten Cents A Shine (8th in 2003) was the couple’s best Derby runner. Their best finish in a Triple Crown race came with Nolan’s Cat, who was third in the 2005 Belmont Stakes.

Trainer Mike Maker has amassed 1,414 victories since he took out his trainer’s license in 1993, according to Equibase statistics through Jan. 18. Maker’s 148 career stakes wins include 37 graded stakes victories and seven Grade 1s. Maker trained 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victor and champion 2-year-old male Hansen and he won the Blue Grass Stakes in 2010 with Stately Victor, whose eighth-place finish in that year’s Kentucky Derby is Maker’s best finish in the race from eight career starters.

Jockey Miguel Mena is one victory away from earning his 1,500th career win, according to Equibase statistics through Jan. 18. Mena, who finished last of 20 with Backtalk in 2010 with his lone Kentucky Derby starter to date, has won 102 stakes races and 25 graded stakes since he took out his jockey’s license in 2003. His Grade 1 victories came with Pool Play in the 2011 Stephen Foster Handicap and Champagne d’Oro in the 2010 Test Stakes.

Pedigree: International Star is from the 11th crop of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, who stood his first season at stud in 2001 for $150,000 at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky. after he was sold for a reported $70-million. He has enjoyed moderate success at stud with Australian champion Haradasun, 2005 Haskell Invitational Stakes winner and sire Roman Ruler and 2005 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner and sire Bandini among his standouts. But his stallion career has not matched his racetrack performance, in which he won six of nine starts and earned $1,994,400. Fusaichi Pegasus currently stands for an advertised fee of $7,500 at Ashford.

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The average winning distance of Fusaichi Pegasus runners is 7.13 furlongs and his top runners show he is very capable of siring a runner who excels in two-turn races such as those on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Fusaichi Pegasus is by breed-shaping sire Mr. Prospector, who has been especially important in U.S. Triple Crown races and specifically the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes. Fourteen of the 21 Belmont Stakes winners since 1995 have come from the Mr. Prospector sire line.

International Star is one of three stakes winners produced by the winning French Deputy mare Parlez. The others two stakes winners, Fools in Love and D C Dancer, both are by prominent Maryland sire Not For Love, also by Mr. Prospector. Because International Star shares three of four grandparents with Fools in Love and D C Dancer, that makes them three-quarter siblings. Fools in Love was a stakes winner at seven furlongs and a winner at 1 1/16 miles while D C Dancer is a stakes-winning sprinter.

Fusaichi Pegasus is by breed-shaping sire Mr. Prospector, who has been especially import in U.S. Triple Crown races and specifically the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes. Fourteen of the 21 Belmont Stakes winners since 1995 have come from the Mr. Prospector sire line.

International Star’s dam (mother), Parlez, was a winner at 1 1/16 miles; his grandam (maternal grandmother), Speak Halory, was stakes-placed at 1 1/16 miles on the grass and a winner at a mile.

International Star’s third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Halory, did not win a race but was exceptional in the breeding shed. She produced 1998 Blue Grass Stakes winner and sire Halory Hunter, Group 2 winner and sire Van Nisterooy, 1999 Delaware Oaks winner Brushed Halory and graded stakes winners Prory and Key Lory.

Pedigree should not stand in International Star’s way as he progresses along the Triple Crown trail, but he does have some ground to make up on the best of his division if he hopes to be a serious contender for the Kentucky Derby.

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