A freshened Joyful Victory was too much to handle for her opponents in the inaugural $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston Race Park on the night of Jan. 26, setting a track record while drawing away for a dominating victory (VIDEO) .
Ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who arrived at Sam Houston for the card after competing at Gulfstream Park earlier in the day, Joyful Victory led at every call and pulled away from her rival Brushed by a Star in the homestretch. The 5-year-old daughter of Tapit was victorious by 4 1/4 lengths in a time of 1:42.30 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track. The time eclipsed the former record of 1:42.74 established by Desert Air on Feb. 13, 1999.
"It wasn't necessarily my goal to go to the lead," said Napravnik. "I expected to sit off the pace a little. But, when no one came with us, I said 'we'll take it.' She was on her game today and ran an excellent race."
The newly established Houston Ladies Classic is the richest Thoroughbred race in Texas, and anchored a strong card that featured four stakes worth $725,000.
The favorite in the field of six at odds of 3-2, multiple grade stakes winner Joyful Victory found the winner's circle for the first time in nearly a year for owner Fox Hill Farm and trainer Larry Jones.
Earlier on the card, Jones and Napravnik teamed up to win the $75,000 Champion Energy Services Stakes with Icon Ike in track-record time for five furlongs on the turf course. The 4-year-old son of Yes It's True edged Chamberlain Bridge by a nose in a final time of :56.48, besting the previous record of :56.81 set by Charming Socialite in 2006.
"The plan was to get her to relax, not to fight her and just let her run," said Jones of Joyful Victory. "I can't take credit for setting two track records; Rosie had everything to do with that. But if there was one I really wanted, it was this race."
Joyful Victory was making her first start since finishing third after setting the pace in the Falls City Handicap (gr. II) Nov. 22 at Churchill Downs. The gray mare's most recent victory came last February in the Tiffany Lass Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.
Bred in Ontario, Canada by William D. Graham, Joyful Victory is out of the Wild Again mare Wild Lucy Black.
Breaking from the rail, Joyful Victory took the early lead from Sisterly Love and as the remainder of the field was sorting itself out, she maintained a comfortable advantage while coaxing her way through quarter-mile fractions of :24.04, :47.92, and 1:12.07. With Brushed by a Star, Sisterly Love, and She's All In all pursuing, Joyful victory inched away in upper stretch to take a commanding two-length lead at the furlong marker. She was kept to her task late while finishing as much the best.
Brushed by a Star under Corey Lanerie was a clear second by 1 3/4 lengths over Sisterly Love, with Luis Saez aboard. She's All In took fourth, followed by Lookinforchange and Summer Applause, who lost all chance on the backstretch when jockey Miguel Mena came out of the irons.
The victory, worth $237,600, boosted Joyful Victory's lifetime record to 6-5-3 in 17 starts with earnings of $910,679. She won the Honeybee (gr. III) and Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park in 2011 before running fourth in the 2011 Kentucky Oaks (gr. II).
The winner carried 116 pounds and paid $5, $2.80, $2.40. Brushed by a Star, the 121-pound high weight who had defeated Joyful Victory in her past two starts, returned $3.40 and $2.60 in her first appearance since the Falls City. Sisterly Love, undefeated in three prior starts, was $3 to show.