03/24/2011 11:26AM

Fair Grounds: Change of scenery may help Battle of Hastings in Muniz


NEW ORLEANS – Florida was not very hospitable to Battle of Hastings this winter. Seeking a change of fortune, his trainer, Greg Fox, has brought Battle of Hastings here to Fair Grounds, hoping that a new turf course and a switch in riders will bring out the best from Battle of Hastings on Saturday in the Grade 2, $400,000 Mervin Muniz Memorial Handicap.

The Muniz, named for the late, popular racing secretary here, drew a field of nine older horses who will go about 1 1/8 miles on turf. Expansion and Sleepless Knight, who ran one-two in last month’s Fair Grounds Handicap, the major local prep for the Muniz, are back, but three invaders from Florida – Battle of Hastings, Moryba, and Smart Bid – look like major threats to the locals.

Battle of Hastings had a dreadful, traffic-filled trip in the Ft. Lauderdale at Gulfstream in his 2011 debut, then, according to Fox, was caught behind a slow pace and had too much to do late in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap last time out. He was favored in both races.

“He lost, but he fired,” Fox said of his last start. “I don’t think it was appropriate for him to run his final five furlongs in 56 seconds.”

The Muniz marks the first start at Fair Grounds for Battle of Hastings, and with Julien Leparoux in Dubai on Saturday, Fox has given the mount to Robby Albarado.

“Hopefully this course, the way it is configured, with the added distance in the stretch, will suit him,” Fox said. “And Robby, I have a lot of confidence in him in general, but this is his home turf course.”

Moryba has the look of a live longshot. Although Moryba drew the outside post, and has yet to race in a graded stakes in this country, the Brazilian import was a sharp winner of an upper-level allowance in his United States debut Jan. 23 at Gulfstream.

“He’s a nice little horse,” said Bill Mott, who trains Moryba. “He beat a field of classy older horses who maybe were not at the top of their game, but I’m happy with the way he did it. He was quite impressive. He ran a real professional race and had a good turn of foot.”

Smart Bid, though winless in six starts since November 2009, is coming off two good efforts at Gulfstream, both times finishing in front of Battle of Hastings. He was beaten a nose in the Gulfstream Park Handicap after finishing third in the Ft. Lauderdale.

Expansion pulled off a 32-1 upset in the Fair Grounds Handicap, just holding off an unlucky Sleepless Knight to win by a head. Workin for Hops, who finished fourth after setting the early pace in the Fair Grounds Handicap, again will be the one to catch, and should be tighter with the benefit of that recent outing following a five-month layoff.