Rapid Proof, dismissed at odds of 31-1, edged out A to the Z and America Alive in a three-horse photo to win the $500,00 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Fair Grounds turf course. Local runners dominated the New Orleans track's signature turf event .
Rapid Proof paid $65.20, $16.20 and $9.40 and gave 19-year-old jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. his first graded stakes win. The Muniz provided 62-year-old trainer Hal Wiggins with his second career graded stakes victoriy. In 2001, Wiggins-trained Chorwon took the Kentucky Turf Cup (gr. IIIT).
It's the seventh straight year a longshot has won the Muniz, and the third straight time a locally based horse has made it to the winner's circle. Candid Glen ($170.40) and Mystery Giver ($32), who each wintered at Fair Grounds, won this event the last two years.
Rapid Proof was sixth through the first six furlongs of the about 1 1/8-mile event. America Alive took a brief lead in the stretch before Rapid Proof moved in front and held off A to the Z by a head. America Alive was a nose further back in third in the field of 11 older horses. The running time was 1:50.99.
"What a finish there!" Wiggins said. "Whoever handicapped this race must have done a helluva job. Maybe it was Mervin."
The Muniz is named for Fair Grounds' longtime racing secretary who died in 2003.
Rapid Proof was third in the two local preps for the Muniz. He was beaten by 1 1/2 lengths by G P Fleet in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap Feb. 19 and was only a head behind the Neil Howard-trained America Alive in the Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap on Jan. 15.
"I broke very well today," said Hernandez, the 2004 Eclipse Award winner as champion apprentice jockey. "He was so relaxed. When we turned for home, the rail opened up and we went through. It was just our day today, I guess."
Wiggins has trained at Fair Grounds since the 1970s.
"It's quite an honor for me to win this race (named) in Mervin's honor," he said. "I knew Mervin since we were both at Evangeline Downs.
Rapid Proof's fourth lifetime victory in 23 starts more than doubled the 5-year-old Fast Play gelding's career bankroll to $549,703.