The 1 1/8-mile Muniz is the second of three graded stakes on Louisiana Derby Day at Fair Grounds and has an approximate post time of 4:22 p.m. CDT. A homebred of George Strawbridge Jr. and trained by Graham Motion, 6-year-old Smart Bid won this race by a nose a year ago for his first graded victory. The son of Smart Strike kicked off his current campaign with another narrow win over the local course in the Feb. 25 Fair Grounds Handicap (gr. IIIT), defeating current entrant Mr. Vegas by a head as the favorite.
Pennsylvania-bred Smart Bid has produced a 5-7-4 record from 20 lifetime starts and earnings of $891,813. Edgar Prado will have the mount on the 121-pound co-high weight.
Andrews T and S Racing’s Mr. Vegas carried the lead for most of the way in the Fair Grounds Handicap before being run down in the late stages by Smart Bid. The narrow loss snapped a three-race win streak for the 5-year-old Freud gelding—all of them at Fair Grounds. In January, Mr. Vegas won the Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap (gr. IIIT). Miguel Mena will keep the mount on the New York-bred, who seeks his eighth win in 23 starts. He is trained by Richard Scherer.
The other horse carrying 121 pounds is Irish-bred Willyconker, the 10-1 upset winner of the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park on March 3. That was his first stakes victory. A former $40,000 claimer, Willyconker finished second by a length in his start prior to the Kilroe Mile, the Arcadia (gr. IIT) over the same course.
Willyconker will be stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time in his career. He ships in from California for trainer Doug O’Neill, with Joel Rosario retaining the mount.
Two other contenders entering off wins are Joinem and Papaw Bodie. Trained by David Carroll, Joinem won a two-turn optional claimer Feb. 11 at Gulfstream Park in his last start, and has a victory over this course last year. He was fifth, beaten two lengths, in the 2011 Muniz Handicap.
Papaw Bodie has won four straight races including the John B. Connally Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) at Sam Houston Race Park on Jan. 28 in his most recent start. The son of Strong Hope was claimed for $50,000 by Mike Maker for Connie Apostelos last fall at Keeneland.
$400,000 Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 9, 4:22 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Willyconker (IRE), J Rosario, 121, D F O'Neill
2. Slow Pace (KY), J Castellano, 114, T A Pletcher
3. Wilkinson (KY), B J Hernandez Jr., 114, N J Howard
4. Smart Bid (PA), E S Prado, 121, H G Motion
5. Swift Warrior (KY), J R Leparoux, 115 J P Terranova II
6. Casino Host (KY), J R Velazquez, 113, C C Brown
7. Suntracer (IL), S Bridgmohan, 114, N L Pessin
8. Mr. Vegas (NY), M Mena, 117, R R Scherer
9. Mister Marti Gras (KY), C H Borel, 114, N L Pessin
10. Joinem (KY), J Graham, 116, D M Carroll
11. Papaw Bodie (KY), R Napravnik, 116, M J Maker