Once again a filly showed up the boys as the weekend stakes action reached a climax with Champion Two Year Old Male Uncle Mo failing in his last Derby prep and the Santa Anita Derby field reduced to mostly second tier performers. It looks like Larry Jones retained the best of his sophomore fillies when Summer Soiree was transferred from his barn after a sale to Team Valor and Honeybee Stakes (gr.3) victor Joyful Victory remained behind.
Returning to Oaklawn Park just one month after romping home by more than 8 lengths in the Honeybee Stakes (gr.3), Joyful Victory turned in yet another brilliant performance to defeat Arienza by a pole in the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes.
As the field of four broke from the gate in the 1 1/16 mile test longshot Explosive Disco quickly overtook Arienza to take control of the lead. Joyful Victory broke sharply from the inside post and immediately settled in comfortably behind the two frontrunners under jockey Mike Smith. Honeybee Stakes runner up Holy Heavens took up her customary position at the back of the field, far behind the rest. Around the first turn Explosive Disco opened up by a length on Arienza, running the first quarter in a solid :22.89 with Joyful Victory another two lengths back and Holy Heavens four lengths farther behind. Down the backstretch Explosive Disco continued to pour it on as Arienza, Joyful Victory and Holy Heavens all began to edge closer to the lead. The half mile went in a rapid :46.60 with a length separating each contender from the next.
As they approached the final turn Arienza and Joyful Victory suddenly came alive, moving in tandem to challenge for the lead as Holy Heavens also began to move under a vigorous hand ride from jockey Israel Ocampo. Into the turn and Arienza and Joyful victory surged past Explosive Disco, separated by less than a length, Holy Heavens still three lengths out of it. Midway around the far turn Arienza held a half length advantage and it looked like Joyful Victory was in for a fight, but that all changed the second Mike Smith dropped his hands and urged his filly to the lead.
The two fillies flew off the turn and into the stretch, Arienza on the inside dug in gamely but Joyful Victory was clearly the best and continued to roll under Mike Smith, extending her lead willing as he urged her on. With a furlong left to go Joyful Victory was already clear by three lengths as Holy Heavens kicked it into high gear, now under the whip but too late to catch the front two.
Blazing under the line in an excellent time of 1:44.74, Joyful Victory notched her second straight romp over Oaklawn’s dirt track, this time by 7 lengths in a hand ride. Arienza ran a great race in her first graded stakes try to hold on for second over a fast closing Holy Heavens.
[Has Joyful Victory impressed you enough to earn her brand new #1 position on the 2011 Kentucky Oaks Contenders?]
After the race winning trainer Larry Jones said the resemblance between Joyful Victory and another of his famed trainee’s, the ill-fated Eight Belles, is “Uncanny.” Also stating that “It’s more than just because they are both grays, I was looking at her the other day and I said I know she was born the year (Eight Belles) died, but it’s almost like she consumed her. It’s like she’s come back.”
With Kathmanblu running third in Saturday’s Ashland Stakes (gr.1) at Keeneland and Dancinginherdreams throwing in a clunker to finish last, Joyful Victory and R Heat Lighting are now the only two fillies to enter the Kentucky Oaks with huge back-to-back scores. Needless to say tomorrow’s ‘Novel Nine’ rankings is going be one of the toughest rearrangements yet.