135-1 longshot Ive Struck a Nerve wins Risen Star at Fair Grounds

Associated Press photo by LOU HODGES JR.James Graham, aboard Ive Struck A Nerve, glances over at his competitors as his horse gets a nose in front of Code West, back right, and Palace Malace (6) to win the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in February in New Orleans.
Associated Press photo by LOU HODGES JR.James Graham, aboard Ive Struck A Nerve, glances over at his competitors as his horse gets a nose in front of Code West, back right, and Palace Malace (6) to win the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in February in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS — Away from the frenzied commotion of a frenetic crowd, away from the hordes of TV cameras and microphones, Matthew W. Bryan stood in the hushed quiet of the Fair Grounds Race Course Stakes Room on Saturday holding a glass of champagne and sporting a giddy smile.

Just minutes after his horse, Ive Struck a Nerve, claimed a stunning upset in the 40th running of the $400,000, Grade II Risen Star Stakes, the owner was virtually speechless.

Before the race, Bryan peeked at the final odds board and saw that Nerve would be a 99-1 longshot — the boards only go up to 99 — but he didn’t lose faith in his horse, trainer Keith Desormeaux and jockey James Graham. Bryan knew, with that team, the seeming impossible was possible.

He was right.

“You can never overstate how big (the upset) is,” he said. “Anytime you have a 12- or 13-horse field ... I looked up at the board and saw we were 99-1. We still weren’t getting any respect. I just knew that if (Nerve) got clear, he’d ride great. It’s a blessing.

“It’s so many emotions right now,” added Bryan, who earned his first graded stakes win as an owner. “I just can’t explain it. This is just amazing.”

Later Saturday, the official odds for Ive Struck a Nerve were announced as 135-1.

What’s amazing is that such a huge underdog now has the inside track for a slot in the Kentucky Derby. Ive Struck a Nerve grabbed the Road to the Kentucky Derby points standings with his win.

What’s amazing is that Ive Struck a Nerve was dead last at the first turn of the 11⁄16-mile dirt race and, with Graham’s wealth of experience, ended up running away from a field that included 5-2 favorite Normandy Invasion — which placed a distant fifth in the crown jewel of the Fair Grounds’ Louisiana Derby Preview Day.

What’s amazing is that a horse that was purchased for $82,000 last spring has already racked up $268,000 in stakes earning in the Kentucky Derby Series.

“I believe we can win anything, at any odds,” Desormeaux said. “This is incredible on so many levels. It just shows that if you put money and power behind a horse, you can see what happens.”

As the field came down the home stretch and Nerve began to pull away, the throngs of race-goers who lined the trackside erupted in shouts and cheers. After the underdog crossed the finish line and was headed to the winner’s circle, one crowd member shouted, “We’re going to Disney World!”

Bryan emerged from the throng, pumped his fist and blurted, “Yes! Yes!” before hugging and backslapping a half-dozen well-wishers. As the team of winners crowded together for post-race pictures, Graham clasped the massive crystal winner’s trophy and pretended to take a long drink from it as onlookers burst out laughing.

“Once I got (Nerve) settled, he did everything I asked him to do,” Graham said. “He finished off strong.”

Strangely enough, officials at the Fair Grounds issued a report by staff writer Graham Ross on Thursday pegging Ive Struck a Nerve as a “longshot to consider” in the Risen Star, making the mount’s staggering win almost eerie.

“Matt Bryan has invested heavily in me by getting me better horses to train,” Desormeaux told Ross at the time.

“He has placed a lot of confidence in me and my program, and when you get a confidence booster like that, it affects my other owners as well. The confidence seems to just run through the barn.”

With confidence, the impossible apparently is possible.