Joyful Victory won the Houston Ladies Classic on Jan. 26 by 4 1/2 lengths.

Joyful Victory won the Houston Ladies Classic on Jan. 26 by 4 1/2 lengths.

Coady Photography/Jack Coady

Joyful Victory Chases Grade I in 'Margarita

Just five to oppose Fox Hills Farms' 5-year-old Tapit mare at Santa Anita March 16.

Joyful Victory, shipping to Southern California from New Orleans, has a golden opportunity to secure her first grade I victory in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes March 16 at Santa Anita Park.

The 5-year-old Tapit  mare trained by Larry Jones for Fox Hill Farms, makes her second trip to Santa Anita in less than six months for the Santa Margarita; she ran second to Love and Pride in the Zenyatta Stakes (gr. I) Sept. 29.

Rosie Napravnik is named to ride Joyful Victory, who earned a career-best 98 Beyer speed figure in her most recent start, a 4 1/2-length front-running romp in track-record time in the Houston Ladies Classic Jan. 26 at Sam Houston Race Park. Napravnik rode Joyful Victory in last year's Zenyatta (formerly the Lady's Secret), which was the first Southern California appearance for both horse and rider.

Joyful Victory's grade I quest was made considerably easier by the defection of My Miss Aurelia from the Santa Margarita. The multiple grade I-winning filly trained by Steve Asmussen had been training forwardly at Santa Anita, but is instead running in the Azeri Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park as a prep for next month's Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I).

That leaves a field of six older fillies and mares for the 1 1/8-mile Santa Margarita, which is race 7 on Saturday's Santa Anita card with a 3:35 p.m. PDT scheduled post. The Santa Margarita immediately precedes the San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IIT) for older horses going 1 1/2 miles on turf.

Ontario-bred Joyful Victory, who drew post 3, leads the field in earnings with $910,679. The gray/roan mare has compiled a consistent lifetime record of 5-5-3 in 16 races.

Her toughest rival figures to be Great Hot, who benefited from a crafty ride by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens to score a gate-to-wire half-length victory from the rail in the Santa Maria Stakes (gr. II) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 16. A Brazilian-bred 5-year-old mare trained by A.C. Avila for Coudelaria Jessica, Great Hot registered a career-best 98 Beyer while putting the brakes on a 13-race losing streak as a 9-1 surprise.

Great Hot, a daughter of Orientate, will be attempting nine furlongs for the first time and will have some other speed in the lineup to deal with this time, including Joyful Victory. Stevens rides again from post 4.

Also coming off a victory is Michael Talla's fast-developing More Chocolate, who defeated fellow 4-year-old fillies in the La Canada Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 20 by nearly two lengths at Santa Anita. John Sadler trains the Calumet Farm-bred daughter of Malibu Moon . She made her stakes debut just three weeks before the La Canada with a third in the Robert J. Frankel Stakes (gr. III).

With Garrett Gomez aboard, More Chocolate pressed the pace in the La Canada, took over with a half-mile to run, and held off the well-regarded Book Review for victory. With Gomez riding at Oaklawn Park Saturday, Martin Garcia takes over.

Unlimited Equine's well-traveled Brushed by a Star ships in from Florida's Palm Meadows Training Center for trainer Eddie Kenneally for her first start since running second to Joyful Victory in the Houston Ladies. The 5-year-old Eddington  mare won a pair of grade II stakes last year, the Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park in front-running style, and the the Chilukki at Churchill Downs, where she defeated Joyful Victory by a head. Victor Espinoza takes the mount on the 120-pound high weight.

Snow Fall, from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, attempts to rebound from a disappointing fourth in the Santa Maria. She stalked Great Hot that day but never challenged the winner. The 5-year-old War Front  mare won the Paseana Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths prior to the Santa Maria. Snow Fall adds blinkers.

The Only Key, a British-bred 7-year-old trained by Dean Greenman for former Santa Anita president Ron Charles, completes the field. In sharp form against softer company in two starts this year, she will be trying dirt for the first time.

$300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes (gr. I, Race 7, 3:35 p.m., Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. The Only Key (GB), K Krigger, 118, D Greenman
2. Brushed by a Star (KY), V Espinoza, 120, E Kenneally
3. Joyful Victory (ON), R Napravnik, 118, J L Jones
4. Great Hot (BRZ), G L Stevens, 118, A C Avila
5. Snow Fall (KY), T Baze, 118, J Hollendorfer
6. More Chocolate (KY), M Garcia, 118, J W Sadler
Blinkers On: Snow Fall