04/01/2012 4:56PM

Fair Grounds: Casino Host takes advantage of clear trip in Muniz upset

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Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges Jr.
Casino Host, with John Velazquez riding, outfinishes Papaw Bodie to win the Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds.

Casino Host, getting a textbook ride under John Velazquez, surged past a stubborn Papaw Bodie in the final 70 yards to post a 10-1 upset Sunday in the 20th running of the Grade 2, $400,000 Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

After front-running Mr. Vegas began to weaken on the lead after straightening for home, the Muniz became wide open, with Papaw Bodie getting a narrow lead over several others inside the eighth pole. But then Casino Host, always in the clear, came with the best run, getting up by a half-length. Joinem ended a parade of longshots by finishing third at 28-1, another 1 1/4 lengths behind Papaw Bodie, a 9-1 shot.

Owned by Gary and Mary West and based this winter at Palm Meadows in south Florida with trainer Chad Brown, Casino Host was notching his first stakes victory. A 4-year-old Kentucky-bred colt by Dynaformer, he returned $23.80 after finishing the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:50.87 over a turf course rated good.

“It worked out really well for me,” Velazquez said. “When I asked him, he was there for me.”

After limited success in several top grass stakes last year at 3, Casino Host was regrouped this winter and was coming off a victory in a Feb. 4 first-level turf allowance at Gulfstream Park. He carried 113 pounds under handicap conditions and was in receipt of eight pounds from co-highweights Willyconker and Smart Bid.

The $2 exacta (6-11) paid $284 and the $1 trifecta (6-11-10) returned $2,515.30.

The Muniz, a longtime fixture on the Louisiana Derby undercard, is named for the late Fair Grounds director of racing. The race had been known as the Explosive Bid until being renamed in his honor the year after his 2003 death.