Until a few days ago, the $250,000 Mother Goose (gr. I) was shaping up to be one of the highlights of Belmont Park’s spring/summer meet. Arguably the three top 3-year-old fillies in training—Plum Pretty, Royal Delta, and Joyful Victory—were all expected to meet in the June 25 contest, with the result going a long way in helping sort out the division.
But on June 20 Black-Eyed Susan (gr. II) winner Royal Delta was taken out of consideration for the 1 1/16-mile Mother Goose with a foot bruise and one day later trainer Bob Baffert said Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Plum Pretty, the expected favorite, would instead stay in California for the Hollywood Oaks (gr. II).
That leaves Joyful Victory as the lone remaining standout in the Mother Goose, which drew a field of seven. The daughter of Tapit is the 9-5 morning-line choice to score her first grade I win. Her trainer, Larry Jones, was eager to see Joyful Victory get a second chance at Plum Pretty, but said he is sure their paths will cross again some time soon. Joyful Victory finished fourth as the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks while watching Plum Pretty win by a neck.
“I’m not glad (Plum Pretty and Royal Delta) are out of there, but if it’s in their best interests not to be in there I’m not going to complain,” laughed Jones, who knows Joyful Victory’s chances improved dramatically with the other two out. "I’m sure we’ll hook them at some point, probably at Saratoga. Right now, this will give us an opportunity to learn a little more about our filly and see where she’s at.”
Jones thought Fox Hill Farm’s Joyful Victory was sitting on a big race in the May 6 Oaks, as she was entering off convincing scores in the Honeybee (gr. III) and Fantasy (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park, where she won by a combined 16 1/4 lengths. But after drawing the rail and sitting along the inside while third most of the way in the Oaks, the gray/roan filly came up empty in the stretch under Mike Smith.
“The results were not what I expected,” Jones said. “But a little bit of humble pie never hurt anyone. That’s horse racing. I guess I will use the rail as an excuse, whether it’s the real reason or not. This filly has tremendous cruising speed and I think it was a factor that she wasn’t able to get out of that pocket. It wasn’t like she couldn’t relax, but she was just trapped inside and when it was time to go she had already expended her energy.”
Jones said Joyful Victory has worked very well in her three breezes at Delaware Park since the Oaks, including a faster-than-it-looked five-furlong move in 1:00 2/5 on June 20 when she was the fastest of 17 at the distance on a morning when the track was playing extremely slow. He has assigned Ramon Dominguez to ride the Ontario-bred filly.
Jones said Joyful Victory, who was third in the Frizette (gr. I) last year in her only start at Belmont when trained by Tony Dutrow, would likely be pointed to the $250,000 TVG Coaching Club American Oaks (gr. I) July 23 at Saratoga for her next race.
In the Mother Goose, Joyful Victory’s toughest test could from Craig B. Singer’s Salty Strike, a decisive winner of the June 4 Dogwood (gr. III) at Churchill Downs for Ken McPeek. The rapidly improving Smart Strike filly romped by seven lengths in an optional claimer in her previous start. In her only stakes try this year, she was fourth to Joyful Victory in the Honeybee. Manny Cruz will have the mount on the 5-2 second choice.
“She’s dappled out from head to toe right now and she got to New York Monday morning and has settled in really well," McPeek said. "We were looking at this race or the Prioress (on July 4), but she’s coming off a mile race, this is around one turn, and I think anytime you have a shot with a filly in a grade I you have to take it.”
The other graded stakes winner in the field is Victoria's Wildcat (12-1) who scored in the Eight Belles (gr. III) on Kentucky Derby Day when rallying from well off the pace. She followed up by finishing fourth in the June 11 Acorn (gr. I).
Todd Pletcher, who has won the Mother Goose three times including last year with Devil May Care, will send out maiden winner R Gypsy Gold and Black-Eyed Susan runner-up Buster's Ready. R Gypsy Gold (15-1), an E. Paul Robsham homebred by Bernardini, broke her maiden June 4 at Monmouth Park by 7 1/2 lengths. Buster’s Ready (7-2), a homebred of the Estate of Edward P. Evans by More Than Ready, has won three of eight starts and has hit the board in all five tries this season.
Completing the field are Alseera, an optional claiming winner in a sprint May 25 at Belmont, and My Assets, a maiden winner May 29 at Belmont going one mile.
$250,000 Mother Goose (gr. I, Race 9, 5:17 p.m.), 3YO Fillies, 1 1/16 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Victoria's Wildcat (KY), D Cohen, 121, R B Hess Jr.
2. Salty Strike (KY), M R Cruz, 121, K G McPeek
3. My Assets (KY), A O Solis, 121, T Albertrani
4. Joyful Victory (ON), R A Dominguez, 121, J L Jones
5. Buster's Ready (VA), J R Velazquez, 121, T A Pletcher
6. R Gypsy Gold (KY), J Castellano, 121, T A Pletcher
7. Alseera (KY), A Garcia, 121, K P McLaughlin