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STAKES ADVANCE: 24th Grade II $300,000 Muniz Memorial Handicap


Contact: Michael Adolphson, Staff Writer/Media Specialist, 504.948.1255, Michael.Adolphson@fgno.com


NEW ORLEANS (March 20, 2016) – Over the last two seasons at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, few horses have captured the admiration of the New Orleans fans like Wentworth Brochu’s Chocolate Ride (below). A $40,000 claim in November of 2014, the son of Candy Ride has overcome troubled feet to win six of seven career starts on the Stall-Wilson turf course, including four graded stakes, and will defend his title in the 1 1/8-miles Grade II $300,000 Muniz Memorial Handicap when he carries top weight of 124 pounds, including regular rider Florent Geroux.

So far this 2015-16 season, the Brad Cox trainee has been nothing short of flawless. Winning all three starts, including gate-to-wire victories in the Grade III $125,000 Col. E. R. Bradley Handicap on Jan. 16 and Grade III $125,000 Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 20, he will have to overcome a talented field of old and new challengers, in addition to giving away between four and 12 pounds to them. Chocolate Ride breaks from post four of 11.

Two-time Grade III winner World Approval kicked off his 4-year-old season by showing a new front-running dimension in a Gulfstream Park allowance, never looking back for trainer Mark Casse and breeder-owner Live Oak Plantation en route to a 2½-length victory. As a sophomore, the gray son of Norther Afleet won the Grade III American Derby and Grade III Saranac at the Muniz’s nine-furlong distance. Julien Leparoux rides from post 10.

Three Diamonds Farm’s Roman Approval (above) has finished a closing second in his last two to Chocolate Ride and will attempt to turn the tables on said rival in the Muniz for trainer Mike Maker. The consistent 5-year-old son of Roman Ruler has finished in the exacta in 21 of 29 career starts and will receive the added bonus of a rabbit in the form of Maker-trained and -owned Change of Command, who breaks from post six under Mitchell Murrill. Roman Approval will once again be ridden by Javier Castellano and breaks from post two.

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott brings a pair of aces in WinStar Farm’s Grade I-placed Closing Bell (above) and Earle Mack, Wachtel Stables et al.’s last-out Grade III-placed Take the Stand (below in background). Closing Bell exits a seventh-place finish in the Grade I $500,000 Donn Handicap on the dirt at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 6 and returns to his preferred surface. Second last year to multiple Grade/Group I winner Highland Reel in the Grade I $450,000 Secretariat Stakes, the son of Tapit’s lone stakes victory came when taking the $300,000 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs in mid-September. Jose Lezcano rides from post five.

Take the Stand ran lights-out in the Grade III $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes last out on Feb. 13, contesting the pace throughout and then nearly holding on in a heartbreaking neck loss at Tampa Bay Downs. Edgar Prado retains the mount from the rail on the Argentine Group III winner and lightly raced son of Not For Sale.

The field for the 24th running of the Muniz Memorial Handicap is completed by Can’thelpbelieving (Velazquez, post three) (above), Amigo (Bridgmohan, post seven), Blarp (Albarado, post eight), Potomac River (Jacinto, post nine) and String King (Graham, post 11).