The Grade 2 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Handicap goes as race 8 on the Saturday Fair Grounds card and will be run at “about” a mile and 1/8 on the grass.
The favorite on the morning line is Divine Oath, who exits a fifth-place finish in a top-loaded Gulfstream Park race that was a testament to the fact that all Grade 2s are not created equal.
According to our Pace Projector, this race will favor horses who race on or near the early lead, and the Grade 3 winner Coalport will be on a clear early lead. Chocolate Ride is projected to be alone in second place, receiving the so-called “watchdog” trip that some handicappers abhor and others mind not a bit. Paroled is shown in third place early. The others fall in line trotter-style behind him, and if Pace Projector is correct in its projection of a speed-friendly pace, these other horses will be at a disadvantage.
Our play in the Mervin H. Muniz will be built around Paroled, who has much going against him but enough in his favor for us to take a shot if his 6-1 morning line odds hold up or, better yet, drift higher.
Paroled is a six-year-old gelding who has never run in a stakes race, let alone a Grade 2. His lifetime top grass speed figure of 104 is no match for his opponents’ best numbers. He has lost too many claiming races for us to count. He is at an age where many horses are declining. We expect to get his morning line odds and more.
In his favor we number the following factors: Pace Projector predicts a slow pace for this, and, given his post position and habitual placement in shorter races, it is not at all hard to imagine Paroled locked up (so to speak) on the rail, covered up and saving ground behind the two speed horses. This kind of “suck along” trip on the grass is often conducive to horses outrunning their odds. In addition, despite his having just run at a race rating level that is well below today’s preliminary race rating of 108, we just plain like the way he won last time. To us he looked every bit the part of a horse who is right now as sharp as he can get. He is stepped up optimistically into a Grade 2 today. Grass is a less demanding surface than dirt–more likely to tolerate powerful back-to-back efforts. The sharpness he just showed on the racetrack, combined with the optimism his connections are showing with this choice of spots, has us thinking there is a decent chance that Paroled will outrun his apparent class limitations today.
As far as the rest of this field is concerned: We are a little negative on Coalport, who we feel had little behind him as he earned a speed figure of 108 while wiring a Grade 3 field in Texas. We do not like Highball or Potomac River at all. We see Chocolate Ride and (to a lesser extent) Slumber as contenders. We feel that Divine Oath is the most likely winner, but we see him as likely to be a slight underlay in light of the likely pace.
Win bet on Paroled. Get Paroled underneath in exactas and trifectas.