Lucullan Looks Live in Muniz Memorial Handicap
Finding the winner of Saturday’s $300,000 Muniz Memorial Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds could be more or less akin to finding a needle in a haystack.Held at “about” nine furlongs on the turf course, the Muniz Memorial attracted eleven starters, and on paper the race looks wide-open and competitive. Among the most accomplished entrants are #1 Synchrony, who rallied powerfully from off the pace to win the Fair Grounds Handicap (gr. II) over this course last month; #8 Mr. Misunderstood, who finished a clear second in the Fair Grounds Handicap, which marked his first defeat from nine starts on turf; #9 Forge, close runner-up behind champion World Approval in the Tampa Bay Stakes (gr. III) last month; and #11 Ring Weekend, a Grade 1 winner who enters off a decisive allowance victory at Gulfstream Park.
But rather than take the predictable approach and focus on one of these experienced runners, I’m going to try to catch an up-and-comer at a solid price and play #6 Lucullan. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, the son of Hard Spun caught my eye last October when he finished a close second in the nine-furlong Hill Prince Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park, beaten just a neck against a quality field that included the talented stakes winners Yoshida, Bricks and Mortar, and Frostmourne.
That was the conclusion to a solid three-year-old campaign that saw Lucullan finish in the trifecta in five of his six starts, and judging from his return to action on February 11th at Gulfstream, he’s poised for an even better season this year. Sent off as the favorite in a nine-furlong allowance optional claiming race, Lucullan was shuffled back in traffic around the far turn, but nevertheless unleashed an explosive late rally once guided to the outside, rolling past the field to win by three authoritative lengths while running the final three furlongs in an exceptional :34.09 seconds.
That kind of acceleration is the mark of a serious turf horse, and I think Lucullan is poised to pick up his first stakes victory on Saturday. The Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens will have the mount, and Lucullan has enough speed to work out a good trip in a race that lacks any clear front-runners.
My plan is to bet Lucullan to win and key him in the exacta with a few of the other main contenders:
$15 to win on #6 Lucullan $3 exacta: 1,8,9 with 6 ($9) $2 exacta: 6 with 1,8,9 ($6)