The Grade 2, $300,000 Muniz Memorial Handicap has a field of 10 older horses going about a mile and 1/8 on the grass. The field is led by Chocolate Ride, who enters on a three-race winning streak and is the highweight at 124 pounds and the morning line favorite at 5-2. Can’thelpbelieving reportedly is not shipping in for the race.
According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, the pace of this race will be neither fast nor slow, and #4 Chocolate Ride will be on a clear early lead. However, the Pace Projector does not account for the “rabbit” factor, and trainer Michael Maker, having watched Chocolate Ride twice beat his Roman Approval recently after controlling the pace, has entered the quick claimer #6 Change of Command, supposedly with the goal of using him to ensure an honest early pace. If that plays out on the racetrack, then Change of Command will have the early lead and Chocolate Ride will very likely be in second place early, a position from which he has won before.
The fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating in the field, a 116, belongs to World Approval. Potomac River follows with a 115.
At time of writing, weather reports are predicting partly cloudy skies on Saturday.
Five of the horses in this field exit the same race: the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap, which was won wire to wire by Chocolate Ride. The other four are Roman Approval, Blarp, String King, and Potomac River. We much prefer Chocolate Ride and Roman Approval out of this race, and we are respectfully dismissing the other three as non-contenders on the win end today.
Take the Stand fell a neck shy of winning the Grade 3 Tampa Bay at 61-1. It was a legitimate effort. He raced on the lead against fact fractions (note pace figures color-coded in red), and he raced against the race flow. His speed figure of 121 gives him the second-fastest last-out speed figure in the field. He has never been this far, nor has he raced at Fair Grounds. But he draws well. He has proven he can come from behind. If he can find another effort like that last one, he is a contender.
World Approval is a two-time Grade 3 winner who earned a powerful speed figure of 126 in taking an optional claimer (in which he was claim proof) off a five-month layoff. He is untested at Fair Grounds, but he is proven at the distance and he does not need the lead. He, too, is a big threat (in a race that is full of threats).
Closing Bell, a four-year-old, is the most lightly raced horse in the field. He finished second in the Grade 1 Secretariat last year, and he has two speed figures of 122 under his belt. He gets back on grass today after a dull effort on dirt in the Grade 1 Donn at Gulfstream. He has won at distances both shorter and longer than today’s, and in November he paired his top at today’s distance. He has been training regularly at Payson, and he strikes us as a very dangerous horse at a price.
Amigo seems in a little steep but his best effort (a 121) is not out of place in here.
Chocolate Ride is the likely favorite.
6 for 7 lifetime on Fair Grounds turf, he won this race a year ago, and he has also won three Grade 3s on Fair Grounds grass. He has also won race from behind on three occasions. However, his lifetime-top speed figure, a 117, is four races back and, at that, it is a little light relative to his likely closing odds. He is obviously a big threat, but we actually prefer the race that Roman Approval ran in defeat in the Fair Grounds Handicap. We are going to call Chocolate Ride the horse to beat but a likely underlay even with the sizzling Brad Cox in his corner.
Roman Approval has already had two frustrating trips this year.
In the Grade 3 Colonel E. R. Bradley he was four-wide around the far turn, had a difficult time getting breathing space, and finished with a surge, coming up just short against Chocolate Ride. In the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Handicap, he lacked room at a pivotal point and again finished with a surge, again coming up short against Chocolate Ride. We are expecting Chocolate Ride to get a different sort of trip today, and that could put Roman Approval over the top in their personal match-up, if not in the race as a whole.
We are inclined to try to beat favored Chocolate Ride. Roman Approval and Closing Bell are the two who interest us most at ML odds. We will use both Roman Approval and Closing Bell in multi-race wagers, and we will add a win bet on Closing Bell if we get 8-1 or higher.