Favored Joyful Victory went to the front of the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) class when she dominated the $125,000 Honeybee Stakes (gr. III) by 8 3/4 lengths in her first start of the year at Oaklawn March 12 (VIDEO).
Ridden by Mike Smith for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm, the Canadian-bred Joyful Victory made her initial start for trainer Larry Jones, who has compared the Tapit offspring to his star filly, Eight Belles, the 2008 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) runner-up. Jones, along with his wife Cindy, have trained the past four Honeybee winners, including No Such Word, Just Jenda and Eight Belles.
This was the first stakes win for Joyful Victory, who ran fifth in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) in her last start Nov. 5. Tony Dutrow trained her as a 2-year-old. Joyful Victory wore blinkers for the first time in the Honeybee.
“It was a great race for her and a tremendous race for a first one back," Jones said. "I think she got a little tired there at the end, but that's good. She should get a lot out of this and it should set us up great for the Fantasy (gr. II) next and set us up for the Kentucky Oaks hopefully after that.”
Oaklawn's $300,000 Fantasy, at 1 1/16 miles, is April 10.
Five of the original nine Honeybee entrants were listed on this week's Kentucky Oaks Future Wager, although Summer Soiree was scratched earlier by Jones. Joyful Victory was 26-1 in the KOFW prior to the Honeybee win.
Joyful Victory took the lead from a tiring Rigoletta on the final turn and completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:44.83 over a fast track. She took command leaving the quarter pole and expanded her lead to seven lengths by mid-stretch. She cruised home under a hand ride. Holy Heavens was best of the rest for Israel Ocampo, running on late for second by three lengths over Dixie City and Jeremy Rose.
"From the way she was feeling, I knew I was going to get to the front too soon," Smith said. "Mr. Jones told me he put the blinkers on because when’s she by herself she’s liable to do something. He told me to stay aware of that and of course I hit the front. I hit her twice just to make sure, but she was home by then."
Second choice Rigoletta was the surprise early leader, carving swift quarter-mile fractions of :22.67 and :45.91, but she was under urging from Michael Baze by the time Joyful Victory had poked her head in front on the outside after six furlongs in 1:11.28.
Bred in Ontario by William D. Graham, Joyful Victory was a $400,000 purchase as a 2-year-old at Fasig-Tipton in Florida in February 2010. The gray/roan filly is out of Wild Lucy Black, by Wild Again.
She began her career with a neck victory over maidens at Delaware Park last September. In her next start, the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park Oct. 9, Joyful Victory ran third, 5 1/4 lengths behind the victorious A Z Warrior. She prompted the pace on the outside that day and gave way in the stretch.
The Honeybee victory, worth $75,000, boosted Joyful Victory's career earnings to $200,100.
“She's very talented, and it's good to know she handles this track so well because it is so much like Churchill Downs and I know the ultimate goal for them would be the Oaks … and the Fantasy," Smith said.
Joyful Victory carried 117 pounds and paid $5, $3.40 and $2.60. Holy Heavens, winner of Oaklawn's Martha Washington Stakes Feb. 12 for trainer Benard Chatters, returned $7 and $3.60 as the 122-pound high weight. She completed a $42 exacta. Dixie City, in her first start since winning Aqueduct's Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) Nov. 27, was $2.80 in her return for Dutrow.
It was 3 1/4 lengths to Salty Strike in fourth, followed by Jazzin' Okie, Rigoletta and Norma's Dream. Besides, Summer Soiree, Hearts On Fire was also scratched.