Calumet Farm’s Optimizer
, who won the first two legs of the grass series for older horses at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots this winter, has been installed as the 5-2 morning line choice to sweep the series when he heads a field of 10 in Saturday’s Grade II Mervin Muniz Handicap over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course as part of the gala expanded Louisiana Derby Day program at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
As the main event for older horses over the local lawn at Fair Grounds each winter, the 20th renewal of the $400,000 Mervin Muniz Memorial is one of four Grade II races at Fair Grounds Saturday, joining up with the 100th running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby, the 45th renewal of the $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks and the 88th running of the $400,000 New Orleans Handicap on the centerpiece afternoon of the Crescent City racing season.
Optimizer merits his mantle as the favorite in Saturday’s Mervin Muniz based on his 3 1/2-length tally in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap Jan. 26 followed up by his two-length score in the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap Feb. 23. Jockey Jon Court, aboard for both of those wins, will journey from Oaklawn to New Orleans once again for the mount aboard the Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas-conditioned Optimizer.
Capable of providing strong competition for Optimizer is Wachtel Stable et al.’s Irish-bred Amira’s Prince
, now conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott after a campaign in Ireland until mid-summer of last year. Optimizer, the 5-2 second choice in the early line for the Mervin Muniz, is coming off a 3 3/4-length win in South Florida’s Grade II Mac Diarmida over the Gulfstream grass and is undefeated in three starts on this side of the Atlantic. Jockey Junior Alvarado is named to handle the reins.
Third choice at 5-1 in the Muniz morning line is WinStar Farm’s Doubles Partner
, trained by five-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. To be ridden by jockey Javier Castellano, Doubles Partner won Gulfstream’s Grade III Canadian Turf Handicap last year and most recently finished second by a half-length in the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes on Feb. 16 following a troubled trip.
Familiar to Fair Grounds fans are Marette Farrell et al.’s Willcox Inn
and Charles Craig Smith’s String King
. The latter finished second in the Fair Grounds Handicap and won the $100,000 Louisiana Champions Day Turf here Dec. 8, and Willcox Inn finished fourth in the Fair Grounds Handicap and won Arlington’s Grade II American Derby as well as Chicago’s Grade III Hawthorne Derby two years ago. Both are 8-1 in the Mervin Muniz early line.
Completing the Mervin Muniz Memorial field is Chuck and Ella Lou Hageman’s Bim Bam
at 10-1; Joseph Witek’s Tiz Sardonic Joe (10-1); Marius Dall Stella et al.’s Quality Control (12-1); AJ Suited Racing Stable’s Two Months Rent (12-1); and David Bloom’s Fast Track at 50-1.