03/19/2005 1:00AM

Rapid Proof pulls 31-1 upset

Louis Hodges Jr.
Rapid Proof (right) holds off A to the Z to score a head victory in Saturday's Mervin Muniz Jr.'Cap.

NEW ORLEANS - Rapid Proof came up the rail under a heady ride from Brian Hernandez Jr. to win Saturday's $500,000 by a head over A to the Z.

Dismissed at 31-1 in the betting despite finishing third in the prep race for the Muniz, the meet's top turf contest, Rapid Proof settled in sixth place going down the backstretch. Hernandez roused him into third in the stretch, and Rapid Proof then produced a final burst past A to the Z

"I broke very well today, got in a good position," said Hernandez. "He was so relaxed. When we turned for home, the rail opened up and we went through. It was just our day today, I guess."

Doctorate assumed the early lead, with G P Fleet pressing to the outside, Demeteor between horses, and 9-5 favorite Burning Sun tracking intently in fourth.

Burning Sun led through a quarter-mile in 24.39 seconds and a half-mile in 49.52. After running six furlongs in 1:13.82, the leaders were through at the head of the stretch. America Alive forged to the lead just ahead of A to the Z as Rapid Proof swooped inside of them. Those three continued on to the wire in a rousing finish, with Rapid Proof holding on by a head and A to the Z nosing out America Alive for place.

"What a finish there," said Hal Wiggins, who trains Rapid Proof. "Whoever handicapped this race did a hell of a job. Maybe it was Mervin. It's quite an honor for me to win this race in Mervin's honor."

Honor in War finished fourth, followed by Burning Sun, Social King, G P Fleet, Candid Glen, Seinne, Doctorate, and Demeteor.

Rapid Proof ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.99 over firm turf and returned $65.20 to win.