Casino Host, with a well-timed ride by John Velazquez, closed with determination on the outside to post a half-length victory in the $400,000 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots April 1 (VIDEO).
The winning son of Dynaformer got up in time at odds of 10-1 to defeat hard-trying Papaw Bodie, who had gotten the lead for Rosie Napravnik at mid-stretch from pacesetter Mr. Vegas. Late-running Joinem finished third, edging Mr. Vegas by a neck for the show spot. Slow Pace the slight 5-2 favorite in the field of 10, finished a nose farther back in fifth.
Final time for the 1 1/18-mile Muniz was 1:50.87 on a turf course rated good.
Chad Brown trains 4-year-old Casino Host, who posted his first stakes win for owners Gary and Mary West. It was the third overall win in 11 lifetime races for the dark bay or brown colt, a $290,000 Keeneland September yearling sale purchase by Ben Glass, agent, in 2009.
Casino Host began the year with a first-level allowance victory on the Gulfstream Park turf Feb. 4. He had raced in three consecutive grade I turf evants last summer and fall but was unplaced in each.
“He is a hard-trying horse that has been running with some pretty good horses and has not had the best of luck," said Gary West. "We thought he would like this course, especially the 1 1/8 miles. That’s about his right distance."
Colts Neck Stables bred Casino Host in Kentucky. He is out of the Seeking the Gold mare Ensenada.
Mr. Vegas took the early lead from Slow Pace and showed the way through pedestrian fractions of :24.33, :50.04, and 1:14.39 as several others vied for position behind the front-runner. Casino Host, racing mid-pack, was a bit wide on both turns for Velasquez but had a clear path in the stretch as Mr. Vegas began to weaken.
Under strong urging from Velazquez, Casino Host prevailed late under 113 pounds. Papaw Bodie, at 9-1 odds, held onto second by 1 1/4 lengths over 28-1 Joinem, who rallied from ninth on the far turn under James Graham to get the show spot.
Velazquez said he wanted to keep Casino Host within a few lengths of the leaders.
"He was right there on the money and when I asked him he responded and put (up) a good fight down the lane,” he said.
Smart Bid, who won last year's Muniz by a nose and was the 3-1 second choice this time, finished seventh as the 121-pound co-high weight.
Casino Host earned $240,000 for the win and has now banked $396,175 in his career.
The winner paid $23.80, $13.20, and $6.60. Papaw Bodie, winner of the John B. Connelly Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Sam Houston Race Park for trainer MIke Maker in January, returned $10.80 and $4.80 and rounded out a generous $284 exacta. Joinem, from the David Carroll barn, was $9.60 to show. The $2 trifecta paid $5,030.60, while a $2 superfecta with fourth finisher Mr. Vegas was worth $32,179.80.
Recent French import Slow Pace, making his second United States start for trainer Todd Pletcher, was followed by Swift Warrior, Smart Bid, Wilkinson, Willyconker, and Suntracer.