02/02/2002 1:00AM

Mystery Giver makes late move


NEW ORLEANS - Mystery Giver scored a major victory for Illinois-breds by defeating a solid field of older turf horses Saturday in the $147,000 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Mystery Giver, deftly guided by leading rider Eddie Martin Jr., edged away late from Even the Score to win the about 1 1/8-mile turf race by 1 1/4 lengths. He returned $9.20 to win as second choice in a field of 13.

Mystery Giver was bred and is owned by David and Patricia Block, whose yellow and green silks long have been associated with Chicago racing. The Blocks' son, Chris, normally trains their horses, but with Chris overseeing the stable's main string in south Florida this winter, they turned over Mystery Giver to trainer Richie Scherer on the belief that the late-running Dynaformer colt would relish Fair Grounds and its long stretch.

"He loves the turf," said Scherer. "He really seems to be improving."

Fan Club's Mister led to the top of the stretch but then was overtaken by Even the Score, who had stalked him the whole way. Even the Score, a 13-1 shot, drew off in midstretch, only to be overtaken in the final sixteenth.

"My horse would not switch leads," said Lonnie Meche, rider of Even the Score.

Mystery Giver, who is out of one of the Blocks' top mares, Ioya, quickly went through his allowance conditions at Arlington last summer, eventually winning the Autobot Stakes at Hawthorne in October. The Fair Grounds BC was his second start here, following a strong-closing second in the Woodchopper Handicap on Dec. 22.

Overall, Mystery Giver has five wins and three seconds from nine career starts. The $90,000 winner's share boosts his bankroll to more than $227,000.

The Fair Grounds BC is a prep for the richest turf race of the meet, the $700,000 Explosive Bid, to be run March 3. The winner of the Explosive Bid last year, Tijiyr, was never a factor when finishing sixth as the 9-5 favorite.

Mystery Giver finished in 1:50.13 over a firm turf and led a $118.80 exacta.