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Stakes Advance: Real Solution Heads Mervin Muniz Memorial

Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Real Solution, adjudged winner of last summer’s Grade I Arlington Million, will shoulder the top impost of 122 pounds including three-time Fair Grounds’ defending jockey champion Rosie Napravnik in Saturday’s Grade II Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap, annually the centerpiece turf test of the season over the Stall-Wilson course at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

The 22nd renewal of the Muniz Memorial, named in honor of Fair Grounds’ late revered longtime racing secretary, is one of four Grade II races set for Saturday’s Louisiana Derby Day program, which will be highlighted by the 101st running of the $1 million Louisiana Derby for 3-year-olds with designs on this year’s Kentucky Derby and a subsequent Triple Crown campaign.

The other graded stakes on Saturday’s expanded Louisiana Derby Day program are the 90th anniversary edition of the Grade II New Orleans Handicap, Fair Grounds’ showcase race for older horses over the main track in the Crescent City, and the 47th renewal of the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks for the nation’s best 3-year-old fillies.

After his Arlington Million score, Real Solution finished third beaten a length in Belmont’s Grade I Turf Classic Invitational but was a disappointing ninth in Santa Anita’s Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf Classic.  The Mervin Muniz will be his first start of the season and he will break from post #3.

Wachel Stable et al’s Amira’s Prince, the defending champion in the Muniz Memorial, may be the one to beat.  Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, the Irish-bred has only made one start since that local score last season, finishing third beaten 3 ½-lengths in the Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap Feb. 9.  Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will be astride to make up most of the 118 pounds assigned and break from the rail.

Among others challenging the Chad Brown-trained Real Solution in the Muniz Memorial is Maribel Ruelas’s Potomac River, winner of the Grade III Fair Grounds Handicap here Feb. 22 over the local lawn as a designed prep for the Muniz.  Trained by Jose Camejo, Potomac River is assigned 117 pounds – most of which will be made up by jockey Juan Vargas and break from post #4.

Calumet Farm’s Skyring isconditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas andmerits strong consideration in the Muniz.  He finished a nose behind Potomac River when runner-up in the Fair Grounds ‘Cap, gets in the Muniz with 113 pounds, will be ridden by Joe Rocco, Jr. and breaks from the outside in the field of six grass-favoring older horses.

Lothenbach Stable’s Mister Marti Gras, cross-entered in Saturday’s New Orleans Handicap, is proficient over both surfaces and could be better suited to this smaller field of the Muniz.  In his last grass start last October, he finished third in Hawthorne’s $75,000 Carey Memorial Handicap.  He would break from post #5 with 113 pounds and Shaun Bridgmohan in the saddle.

In lightest of all in the Muniz with 112 pounds is Burn the Mortgage, owned and trained by Mike Maker, who claimed the entire son of top turf sire Kitten’s Joy for $62,500 out of a turf test at Churchill Downs last November.  He will break from post #2 with jockey Robby Albarado up.