HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Joyful Victory solidified her status as one of the top choices for next month's Kentucky Oaks with a seven-length victory over the previously undefeated Arienza in the Grade 2, $300,000 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park on Sunday.
The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies continued the Racing Festival of the South, when Oaklawn puts on at least one major stakes per card through the end of the season on April 16.
The Fantasy went with a four-horse field after the scratch of Jelly Cable. Joyful Victory ($3.20) settled into third in the early stages as Explosive Disco, part of an entry with Holy Heavens, jumped out to join Arienza on the front end. Explosive Disco took the lead solo into the first turn, with Arienza racing about two lengths back in second, behind fractions of 22.89 seconds for the opening quarter and 46.60 for the half-mile.
Arienza got the first jump on the leader after six furlongs in 1:11.42. Joyful Victory took up the chase soon afterward, overtook Arienza near the quarter pole, and then darted clear under jockey Mike Smith, who rode the winner for trainer Larry Jones.
"She ran great," Smith said. "He wanted her to get something out of it, and she got something out of it."
Joyful Victory, who was the 3-5 favorite over 4-5 Arienza, covered the 1 1/16 miles on a track rated fast in 1:44.74. It was the second straight stakes win of the year for the filly who opened her season with an easy win in the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn on March 12.
"It was a move forward, with room to grow," Smith said of Joyful Victory's performance in the Fantasy.
Jones said the next stop for Joyful Victory is the Kentucky Oaks.
A decision on whether Arienza, a daughter of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri, will advance to the Oaks has yet to be made, trainer Dan Peitz said shortly after the race Sunday.
"We'll get her back and figure it out," he said.
Holy Heavens closed for third, 1 1/4 lengths behind Arienza. Benard Chatters, who trains Holy Heavens, said he is inclined to advance to the Oaks, with a final decision yet to be made on the race.
Joyful Victory, a daughter of Tapit who races for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm, earned $180,000 for her win in the Fantasy. It was the third Fantasy win for Porter, who also took the race in 2008 with Eight Belles and in 2005 with Round Pond. Jones also has won three runnings of the Fantasy, with Eight Belles and Ruby's Reception in 2003.
The last two winners of the Fantasy, Blind Luck and Rachel Alexandra, both returned to win the Oaks.
The Racing Festival at Oaklawn resumes Wednesday with the running of the $100,000 Red Bud Stakes.