Absinthe Minded won the Bayakoa Stakes by four lengths on Feb. 18.

Absinthe Minded won the Bayakoa Stakes by four lengths on Feb. 18.

Coady Photography/Oaklawn Park

Absinthe Minded, Joyful Victory Meet in Azeri

Lukas-trained mare dominant at Oaklawn, but gets stern test from 2011 Fantasy winner.

Absinthe Minded, who has dominated Oaklawn Park's older filly and mare division this meet, takes on a new challenge from Fair Grounds invader Joyful Victory in the $150,000 Azeri Stakes (gr. III) March 17.

The Azeri, at 1 1/16 miles, precedes the $500,000 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) for 3-year-olds as part of an 11-race St. Patrick's Day Oaklawn card. Just five were entered in the Azeri, which goes as the the eighth race with a 4:43 p.m. CDT post.

Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Absinthe Minded won the Bayakoa Stakes by four lengths in her most recent start Feb. 18. Briland Farm's 5-year-old daughter of Quiet American prevailed in the Pippin Stakes by a neck a month earlier. Both the Bayakoa and Pippin were contested at the Azeri distance.

"I couldn't be more pleased with the way she's going right now," Lukas said. "She's been getting a lot out of her work in the mornings and she seems to be getting better and stronger every day."

Absinthe Minded has always been fond of Oaklawn, where she has earned five of her six career victories and has not been worse than third in nine starts. Her overall mark stands at 6-5-3 in 28 races with earnings of $473,161. Terry Thompson, aboard for both earlier wins, will once again ride Absinthe Minded, who drew the rail and will carry 119 pounds.

She'll be facing a stern threat to her local supremacy from Joyful Victory, a filly that also knows her way around the Oaklawn oval. Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm filly romped in both the Honeybee (gr. III) and Fantasy (gr. II) stakes as a 3-year-old last year by a combined 15 3/4 lengths.

Trainer Larry Jones galloped Joyful Victory over the track March 15 for the first time since she won the Fantasy by seven lengths last April. Jones said he was giving the filly a test drive before returning to Fair Grounds to oversee the seasonal debut of 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes, which is also March 17.

“It’s not like (wife/assistant) Cindy couldn’t handle (Havre de Grace),” said Jones. “It just wouldn’t look too good with the Horse of the Year, but I’d just as soon stay here and take care of Joyful Victory. She just loves it here so much and Oaklawn is such a great place to be.”

Joyful Victory, a gray/roan daughter of Tapit , comes into the Azeri off a half-length victory in the Tiffany Lass Stakes Feb. 11. Looking ahead, Jones knows he's got Havre de Grace potentially defending her title in Oaklawn's Apple Blossom Handicap (gr. I) April 13.

“There’s plenty of racing across America that we can keep these two apart for as long as we need to,” said Jones. “I just know how much Joyful Victory loves this track and we can see how she matches up for races like the Apple Blossom.”

Joyful Victory, who gets two pounds from Absinthe Minded, drew post 4 and will have Robby Albarado in for the ride. The Ontario-bred has won four of 10 lifetime starts while banking $540,068.

Also in the Azeri field is Ravi's Song, winner of last year's New Orleans Ladies. The 6-year-old gray/roan mare also ships from Fair Grounds for trainer Carl Bowman following her runner-up effort in the Tiffany Lass.

Completing the field are Tiz Miz Sue and She's All In. They ran second and third, respectively, in both the Pippin and Bayakoa.

$150,000 Azeri Stakes (gr. III, Race 8, 4:43 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Absinthe Minded (KY), T J Thompson, 119, D W Lukas
2. She's All In (OK), L S Quinonez, 119, D K Von Hemel
3. Ravi's Song (KY), C H Borel, 117, C Bowman
4. Joyful Victory (ON), R Albarado, 117, J L Jones
5. Tiz Miz Sue (KY), J Rocco Jr., 115, S Hobby