By Ryan Martin
While the tote board did not suggest a thrilling battle may be in store, that is exactly what horseplayers were treated to as Grade I winner Bricks and Mortar prevailed by a nose at odds of 1-5 over 62-1 longshot Markitoff in Saturday’s $291,000 Grade II Muniz Memorial Handicap.
Klaravich Stable and William H. Lawrence’s Bricks and Mortar, a winner of the Grade I Pegasus World Cup Turf in his most recent start for trainer Chad Brown, dropped in class for the Muniz and tracked early while under strong restraint from Irad Ortiz, Jr. behind Three Diamonds Farm’s Mike Maker-trained Markitoff who set out on a solo lead through early splits of 24:82, 51.07 and 1:15.28 under Tyler Gaffalione. Bricks and Mortar engaged the leader on the far turn and into the lane, setting the scene for a stretch-long battle in which nose leads were swapped repeatedly in the final yards. In the end, it was the classy nose of Bricks and Mortar on the wire for a victory in 1:50.44 for the nine-furlong trip.
“He needs to have a target, so we didn’t want to go to the lead,” Ortiz said. “I tried to settle him without fighting him too much even though we were walking. I knew [Markitoff] was going to have something, and I knew we were going slow, so I just let him walk and kept close to him as a target.”
“I was very impressed with [his] ability to adapt to a very slow pace and also concede significant weight to the rest of the field and still prevail,” Brown said.
“We had a perfect trip,” Gaffalione said He got in front and was real relaxed the whole way and has his ears up. [Bricks and Mortar] jumped on us pretty quick, but he started hanging. Our horse started to dig in and we just didn’t get the bob.
It was another 1¾ lengths back to Pin Oak Stable’s Michael Stidham-trained Synchrony in third under Joe Bravo. It was Synchrony’s first loss in five starts on the Stall-Wilson turf course.
“Joe just said the turf is a little bit sandy and he didn’t get a real good hold of it early,” Stidham said. “He just got behind a slow pace and.it was just a bad trip.”
“He’s got a lot of heart, he fought,” Bravo said. “The course is very loose, I guess this time of year it’s been used up.”
Bricks and Mortar, a 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway, won for the seventh time in nine lifetime starts while earning $180,000 to boost his career bankroll to $3,198,250. In addition, he earned an automatic entry fees-paid berth into the Grade I $1 million Old Forester Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on May 3 and the Grade I $ 1 million Arlington Million at Arlington International Racecourse on August 10. He returned $2.60, $2.20 and $2.10 ahead of longshot Markitoff who returned $17.60 and $5.40. Synchrony paid $2.40.
Divisidero, Hot Springs and Inspector Lynley completed the order of finish. Bandua, Final Copy, First Premio and Silver Dust were scratched.