Updated on 09/17/2011 1:16PM

Mystery Giver takes Mervin Muniz

Lou Hodges Jr.
Mystery Giver, Robby Albarado up, wins the $500,000 Grade II Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap on Sunday at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS - For much of his career, Mystery Giver has teased, mixing flashes of brilliance with fizzles in big races. Sunday at Fair Grounds, at age 6, Mystery Giver broke through, winning the $500,000 by a three-quarters of a length, and keying a local sweep of the top three places.

Mystery Giver was 9-2 in this race last year, when it still was called the Explosive Bid. This time, despite having won the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup for the third straight year, he was 15-1.

"This year I wasn't as nervous," said Richie Scherer, who trains Mystery Giver only during the winter. "I thought the race was tougher. Last year, I thought it was a little weaker. I thought we had a big shot of winning."

But in last year's race, Robby Albarado made a middle move with Mystery Giver, racing wide on the turn and flattening out in the stretch. This time, Albarado sat at the back of the field, letting Mystery Giver make his run coming off the far turn. In the stretch, he mowed them all down.

"I rode him with the utmost confidence," Albarado said. "He fit with these horses. I didn't even worry about that."

Mystery Giver, a Dynaformer gelding, now must rank as one of the best Illinois-bred horses ever. Earning $300,000 in purse money Sunday, his bankroll swelled to more than $1.07 million. His time Sunday of 1:48.29 for about one and one-eighth miles over very firm turf established a course record. Herculated was second, a half-length in front of Skate Away. Burning Sun was fourth, the favored Silver Tree eighth.

"He looks stronger than he's ever been," said David Block, who bred Mystery Giver with his wife, Patricia. The Blocks own Mystery Giver through their family partnership, Team Block, and for much of the year, David and Patricia Block's son, Chris, trains Mystery Giver. But Chris Block does not travel from his home, and there are no grass courses in wintry Chicago.

Mystery Giver loves the one at Fair Grounds, where he has won four of seven starts. Scherer began coming here with Mystery Giver three winters ago, and he has developed an excellent feel for a horse that can be tricky to train.

Sunday, it all came together in what seemed like a tremendous edition of the Muniz. Silver Tree, in from Florida for Bill Mott with Jerry Bailey riding, was the 2-1 favorite over the Bobby Frankel-trained Burning Sun, and with a pace void in the Muniz, Bailey and Silver Tree wound up head and head with Political Attack on the early lead, with the pair running an opening quarter-mile in a sluggish 24.28 seconds. Mystery Giver raced near the back, and if Scherer was concerned about being too far behind, Albarado was not.

"I let him run his race this time," Albarado said.

Skate Away was the first to strike. With Political Attack and Silver Tree off the fence, and the pace slow, jockey Gerard Melancon seized control, going for the lead at the half-mile pole. Frankie Lovato on Herculated followed along, and the two slipped clear turning for home. Nothing to Lose was trying to get involved outside, and Burning Sun was finding his best stride, but Mystery Giver was the one gathering the biggest head of steam. Herculated swung off the fence to attack Skate Away at the sixteenth pole, and ate into his lead, but outside both of them Albarado and Mystery Giver came rolling past.

"The horse ran big - big," said Mike Stidham, Herculated's trainer. "The rider gave him a great ride. We just got outrun by a better horse."

Mystery Giver outran all of them.