08/24/2003 11:00PM

Fair Grounds' Muniz dead

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Mervin Muniz, the longtime racing secretary at Fair Grounds, died Monday afternoon in New Orleans after a prolonged battle with cancer.

Muniz, 60, worked for 35 years at Fair Grounds after beginning his career at Evangeline Downs in 1966. He moved from the Fair Grounds publicity staff into the racing office in 1968 and stayed through this year, becoming a fixture at the racetrack.

"How's it feel to lose a guy that's so much a part of racing at Fair Grounds and in Louisiana?" Louie Roussel said Monday. Roussel, a former owner of the Fair Grounds, moved Muniz into the position of racing secretary in 1976. "I made him the racing secretary because he was a hard, tireless worker who put the racetrack ahead of everything. He was totally committed to the Fair Grounds."

A New Orleans native, Muniz was the son of a jockey agent, Blackie Muniz, and he hung around racetracks his entire life. In a city filled with colorful characters, he fit in well. Trainers, agents, and racetrack hangers-on gathered each morning in Muniz's Fair Grounds office for gossip and companionship. Horses were named after him, and he developed a rapport with nationally prominent trainers like Bobby Frankel. Fair Grounds horsemen sometimes chafed at Muniz's policies, but there also was great affection for Muniz in the racing community.

"He really was a wonderful guy," Roussel said.

Fair Grounds honored Muniz by inducting him into its Hall of Fame in 2002.

Funeral arrangements are pending.