SANTA MARGARITA | PURSE: $300,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS AND UP| FILLIES AND MARES | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8-MILES
In her sixth try at the Grade 1 level, Joyful Victory finally broke through with a front-running trip under Rosie Napravnik to capture the $294,250 Santa Margarita Stakes in style March 16 at Santa Anita Park.
Shipping in from Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots for trainer Larry Jones and owner Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm, the good-looking 5-year-old gray mare by Tapit was a four-length winner over More Chocolate, with Brushed by a Star a distant third. The 11-10 choice in a field of five older fillies and mares, Joyful Victory completed the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:49.53 over a fast track.
Out of the Wild Again mare Wild Lucy, Joyful Victory was bred in Ontario, Canada, by William D. Graham. She was coming off a track-record performance in winning the Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston Race Park by 4 1/4 lengths in her seasonal debut Jan. 26.
With the win, Joyful Victory surpassed $1 million in career earnings. She was making her second appearance in Southern California for her connections following a runner-up finish behind Love and Pride in last fall's Zenyatta Stakes.
Talking about Joyful Victory's first win in a grade I, Jones said: "I was starting to wonder if she was ever going to show up at the right time at the right day. She had shown us this brilliance at times, but she's just doing everything better right now. She's grown up a lot mentally, because the Tapits, some of them can be a little high-strung and tough. But she has settled into herself really well, and with the Good Lord's blessings, we're going to have a big year."
Napravnik guided Joyful Victory to the front in the Santa Margarita with room at the rail heading into the clubhouse turn. She dictated the tempo from there while maintaining a pressured half-length lead over Great Hot, with Snow Fall and and More Chocolate also close while clipping off an opening quarter mile in :23.02 and the half in :46.50.
"She broke sharp," said Napravnik, who rode Joyful Victory for the first time at Sam Houston. "She likes to run freely and doesn't like being restrained, so it was nice that we had plenty of room on the rail to take the lead into the first turn. She was just relaxed and ran a great race."
Brushed by a Star, last for the opening half mile, went for an early move on the far outside rounding the far turn to put her head into second after they completed six furlongs in a sharp 1:10.50. But Joyful Victory was unfazed on the lead, reasserting command in upper stretch and proving much the best under steady handling by Napravnik to the wire.
Jones had nothing but praise for Napravnik afterward.
"Rosie is a special rider," he said. "It's a gift from God, what she's got. She doesn't realize it yet but she's been anointed with this talent. She is one of the brightest young stars in this game, I can assure you.
"I thought we were going to be on the heels of horses on the first turn, but when [Great Hot] went wide, Rosie just took advantage of it," Jones noted.
The trainer said the goal is to bring Joyful Victory back to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup in November.
"We definitely will not turn her out but we may go light with her early for the rest of the summer and get serious in the fall and start trying to point to get back out here," he said.
More Chocolate, winner of the La Canada Stakes last time out, gave a game try in the homestretch for Martin Garcia but was no match for the winner. Michael Talla's fast-developing 4-year-old daughter of Malibu Moon was 5 1/4 lengths clear of third-place Brushed by a Star, who flattened out in the drive. Great Hot was fourth, while Snow Fall dropped back suddenly on the far turn and was pulled up. Snow Fall walked off the track afterward.
"We were very happy," trainer John Sadler said of More Chocolate's effort. "She ran a really good race, and give credit to the winner. The winner did the hard work and kept going, so we're very happy."
Joyful Victory had a case of second-itis last year, finishing with just one victory in seven starts with four runner-up showings. She has certainly shaken that off in 2013 with pair of dominating victories. Her career earnings now stand at $1,090,679 with an overall record of 6-5-3 in 17 starts.
The winner carried 118 pounds and paid $4.20, $2.60, and $2.10, combining with 2-1 second choice More Chocolate ($3.20, $2.20) for a $12.40 exacta. Brushed by a Star, who shipped in from Florida for trainer Eddie Kenneally, paid $2.20.
Outsider The Only Key was scratched.