Irish-bred Amira's Prince moved to the lead around the first turn and never looked back, winning Saturday's $400,000 Mervin H. Muniz Memorial Handicap (GII) by a half-lenth over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Owned by the partnership of Wachtel Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbreds and Gary Barber, the 4-year-old Irish-bred showed his impeccable turf breeding in his Fair Grounds debut. Ridden for the first time by Junior Alvarado, Amira's Prince looked very comfortable over the firm turf, setting the pace through fractions of :25.06, :50.82, 1:15.06 and 1:38.64. The bay colt held off a late charge from Willcox Inn, finishing 1 ½ lengths ahead in a final time of 1:49.76.
“We were trying to figure out what to do because his first time running a little bit shorter than before,” said Alvarado. “He just broke good and I mean he did everything pretty much easy. You know, I didn't want to fight with him at all so I just let him do his own thing. When it was time to run, I asked him and he gave me everything he had.”
Owner Adam Wachtel had some concerns about shortening to 1 1/8 miles following his recent victory in the Mac Diarmada (GII) at Gulfstream Park and 10-furlong routes in Ireland before shipping to the United States.
“With his tactical speed we thought we'd be alright cutting back and obviously he can handle it so we are very pleased,” said Wachtel.
Lael Stable and All In Stable's Willcox Inn mounted a furious rally under jockey James Graham to finish second.
“He ran great,” said Graham. “We saved ground, and came home in 11 seconds flat. How many horses can do that?”
Trainer Michael Stidham, disappointed in his 5-year-old Kentucky-bred's third and fourth place finishes in two stakes earlier this year, liked what he saw.
“That's the real Willcox Inn,” said Stidham. “Very nice. We don't have definite plans for him; possibly Keeneland or Arlington Park.”
String King, owned and trained by Charles Smith, overcame a wide trip to finish third by a 3 ½ length margin.
Amira's Prince left the gate as the even-money choice, paying $4.60, $3.60 and $3.20 across the board. He remains undefeated in 2013, adding $240,000 today to vault over the $300,000 mark in career earnings.
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