A 135-1 shot took the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II, VIDEO) Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots Feb. 23, Matthew W. Bryan's Ive Struck a Nerve closing late in the final furlong and catapulting himself onto the road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
The 3-year-old son of Yankee Gentleman , bred by Brereton C. Jones, earned 50 qualifying points for the Derby with his victory by a nose over Code West while giving trainer J. Keith Desormeaux his first graded stakes win. With 51 points, Ive Struck a Nerve now leads the Kentucky Derby standings followed by Besilu Stables Fountain of Youth (gr. II) winner Orb (50), runner-up Violence (30), 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby (24), and Goldencents (24).
Code West was second and Palace Malice finished a half-length back in third. The 3-2 favorite Normandy Invasion lost all chance at the break and finished fifth, a length behind Oxbow . Then came Golden Soul, Mylute, Proud Strike, Bethel, Agent, Circle Unbroken, and Hardrock Eleven.
Ive Struck a Nerve paid $272.40, $110.60, and $42.40 while Code West brought $8.80 and $5.60 and Palace Malice returned $4.60. The $2 exacta was worth $2,295, while a $2 trifecta returned $17,787.60. The $2 superfecta came back $70,662.40.
Already seasoned after nine starts under his girth, Ive Struck a Nerve came off a fourth-place finish in the Jan. 19 Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) and had just one other win, a Nov. 24 maiden special weight victory by 1 1/4 lengths going six furlongs in his first Fair Grounds start.
"Every time this horse has gone a distance he's had some kind of trouble," Desormeaux said. "We have talked about it several times, Matt Bryan and I, and we just wanted a clean trip at a distance. If he got beat 14 lengths again we'd quit trying, but we have had trouble every trip...Obviously he proved what Matt and I knew, that he is a nice horse."
Ive Struck a Nerve was last early in the field of 12 under jockey James Graham and was carried four wide around the first turn before he dropped in to lag unhurried with the trailers. Proud Strike, breaking from the rail to get the early lead, went the quarter in :23.92 and Code West edged up to put his head in front after a half in :48.34.
Lecomte Stakes winner Oxbow was also forwardly-placed and made a bid leaving the backstretch after three-quarters in 1:12.74, assuming a one-length lead in the stretch.
Ive Struck a Nerve was making his steady progression from ninth on the far turn and swung six wide at the head of the stretch. He was still fifth with 2 1/4 lengths to make up on the leader at mid-stretch. As Code West fought on again gamely after being passed by Oxbow and Palace Malice put in his outside run, Ive Struck a Nerve closed with a strong outside rally to get up late.
"In the mornings he is being really aggressive in his work patterns with company, so today and the last race he was aggressive around the first turn," Graham remarked. "Today, once I got him settled, he did everything I asked him to do. He finished off strong. Galloped out good and had a great trip."
Jockey Martin Garcia said his inside position on Code West may have cost him the win.
"My horse ran really good and then I was in a really good position," he remarked. "My horse was really competitive in the stretch but he never saw the horse (Ive Struck a Nerve) outside."
Rosie Napravnik was pleased with the effort of Palace Malice.
"He was really not standing great in the gate and maybe got off just a step slow so we lost some position but, having said that, I ended up getting an excellent trip," she said. "I was able to save ground when I wanted, I wasn't forced to move early or late, so we got a good trip. He ran a great race and we got beat half a length for everything so for his first race two turns and all that I think it was an excellent race."
Ive Struck a Nerve began his journey to Risen Star success as a $1,700 weanling at the 2010 Keeneland November breeding stock sale when he was purchased by Whitby Bloodstock from Jones' Airdrie Stud as agent. He was then sold for $17,000 to Summer Mayberry and Rick Rudman at the 2011 Ocala Breeders Sales Co.'s August select and open yearling sale when consigned by Summerfield, agent.
His current connections purchased him for $82,000 from the 2012 OBS Spring sale of 2-year-olds in training from the consignment of Mayberry Farm.
"This horse was one of the first horses I bought for (owner Matt Bryan)," said Desormeaux. "In fact, he was the first 2-year-old I ever got for him."
Desormeaux put Ive Struck a Nerve in the $60,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes at six furlongs Dec. 22 after he broke his maiden and he rallied to be easily second best despite racing five wide. Following the Sugar Bowl, Desormeaux stretched him out to a mile and 70 yards the Lecomte, where he was fourth in his first graded stakes start of the year.
Earlier in his 2-year-old season, Ive Struck a Nerve tried the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) but finished a dismal ninth after failing to rally. He also ran fourth in the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs
last October one start before breaking his maiden.
Ive Struck a Nerve was bred in Kentucky out of the Cryptoclearance mare Ranaway. He improved his record to 2-1-2 from nine starts with earnings of $305,790.