Team Block's Mystery Giver continued his mastery over the Fair Grounds' turf, coming from far back to win Sunday's $500,000 Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) Sunday, setting a course record while going over the $1 million mark in career earnings.
Ridden by Robby Albarado for trainer Richard Scherer, the 6-year-old Dynaformer
gelding overtook Herculated and Skate Away in deep stretch and went on to a three-quarters of a length victory at odds of 15-1 in the Muniz, re-named for the track's former racing secretary who died in August. The race was previously known as the Explosive Bid Handicap. Mystery Giver was the highweight in the field of 10 with 120 pounds.
Mystery Giver was coming off a similar late-running triumph over Skate Away in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap Jan. 31. Overall, he owns four wins and a second in seven starts on the Fair Grounds lawn with earnings of nearly $600,000.
The winning time for the "about" 1 1/8-mile test was 1:48 1/5 on firm going, breaking the previous mark of 1:48 4/5 set by Sarafan two years ago. It was the third record over the Stall-Wilson turf course that has fallen in the past nine days.
Mystery Giver, ninth after six furlongs, began winding up his run on the far turn as the field caught pacesetters Political Attack and 2-1 favorite Silver Tree after fractions of :24 1/5, :49 and 1:12. He closed between horses in mid-stretch and finished with determination.
"I knew the pace wasn't what it needed to be, but I rode him with the utmost confidence," said Albarado, who tied a Fair Grounds record with his 12th stakes win at the meeting. "I was able to save some ground on the far turn. I called on him, and he ran hard and developed as the best one. It's always been a question whether he could compete with these horses. He was at his best today, and he showed it."
Scherer said it was his biggest win.
"I saw the slow fractions and we had only two horses beat, and I was saying 'please give me forty-seven and change (for the half-mile)," Scherer said. "I thought we might be in a little trouble, but obviously, Robby had him timed, as he did in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup, and the horse ran huge again. He loves the track, and he'd been training really well."
Skate Away, ridden by Gerard Melancon emerged from the pack on the inside in upper stretch, got clear but was collared in mid-stretch by Herculated and Frank Lovato Jr., who led until Mystery Giver blew past from the middle of the course close to home.
Heruclated held on by a half-length over Skate Away, who was a length better than Burning Sun, the Bobby Frankel-trained second choice at odds of 3-1.
They were followed by Proud Man, Nothing to Lose, Willard Straight, Silver Tree, Political Attack and Majestic Thief.
The consistent Mystery Giver improved to 11-6-1 in 29 starts while upping his lifetime bankroll to $1,070,510. He has a 6-4-0 mark in 13 starts at the nine-furlong distance.
Sunday's victory was worth $300,000.
"He's really come into his own down here in New Orleans this winter, more so than last year," said owner David Block. "He's put a ton of weight on, and to go over a million dollars with a homebred is something that is hard to believe. I thought I'd never achieve that goal, but we did it today with Mystery Giver."
The bay Illinois homebred is from the dam Ioya, by Naskra. He was fifth in the Explosive Bid last year.
He paid $32, $13.20 and $7.80. Heruclated returned $14 and $11.20. Skate Away's show was $8.80. The $2 exacta was worth $241. The $2 trifecta was $1,895.60.