NEW ORLEANS -- For Take the Stand, the plan going into the Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap wasn't to go for the early lead. Naturally, Take the Stand led all the way to win the Grade 2, $300,000 turf race by 1-1/4 lengths Saturday at Fair Grounds -- and set a course record, to boot.
Ridden by Edgar Prado for owner Earle Mack and trainer Bill Mott, Take the Stand ran about 1-1/8 miles in 1:47.80. The previous record, 1:48.18, was set in the Muniz last year by Chocolate Ride, who was the 2-1 favorite Saturday in a field of 10 older horses.
World Approval made a strong late run to finish second, 1-1/2 lengths in front of third-place Closing Bell, Mott's other entrant. Chocolate Ride was fourth.
"We weren't really looking for the lead,'' said Rodolphe Brisset, assistant to Mott. "I think he just took [Prado] there like a happy horse. Then he kind of re-broke.''
Take the Stand, a 5-year-old Argentine-bred son of Not For Sale, was coming off a runner-up finish by a neck behind Reload on Feb 13 in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Handicap. Take the Stand's odds that day were 61-1; on Saturday, he paid $18 to win.
In the Tampa Bay race, Take the Stand was racing for the first time since November, and Prado saw positive signs. "He was happy last time,'' Prado said. "He was very game when that horse came to him.''
At Fair Grounds, Take the Stand was primed and ready. He broke sharply and set a solid pace. With Roman Approval and Chocolate Ride in closest pursuit, Take the Stand ran the first quarter-mile in 23.54 seconds, the half in 47.59 and six furlongs in 1:10.98.
Chocolate Ride, carrying 124 pounds, eight more than Take the Stand, lacked the stretch punch he showed when winning the Colonel E.R. Bradley and Fair Grounds Handicap earlier in the meet.
Prado said that he could tell on the final turn that Take the Stand would be tough to catch. "He was pricking his ears,'' Prado said.
World Approval raced in seventh place for the first half-mile before steadily gaining ground.
"The winner was on the lead, loose,'' said Julien Leparoux, who rode World Approval for trainer Mark Casse. "He got the first jump on us. But [World Approval] ran a very nice race.''