LOUISVILLE — Trainer Larry Jones describes multiple-graded-stakes winner Joyful Victory as a filly who "loves the crowds."
On Friday, the daughter of Tapit will try to entertain her largest audience yet as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. With fellow Grade I winner R Heat Lightning declared out of the Oaks on Monday, Joyful Victory stands as the lukewarm choice in an evenly matched field.
The gray filly enters the race off a pair of dominating efforts in the Grade III Honeybee and Grade II Fantasy Stakes — which she won by a combined 153/4 lengths — but faces Grade I winners Zazu and Lilacs and Lace in her first try at the Oaks' 11⁄8-mile distance.
"She's an off-the-pace kind of horse," Jones said. "She lays up close but, in this race, she may be a little farther back because it looks like there is a lot of pace. If she does, we're OK with that because this is a little longer race than she's been running in. Hopefully, we'll get some racing luck to go our way."
Owned by Rick Porter, Joyful Victory will break from post position No. 1 in the 13-horse field and will have jockey Mike Smith in the irons.
Zazu, winner of the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes in February, is the 4-1 co-second choice in the Oaks along with graded-stakes winner Kathmanblu.
Kathmanblu scored the most dominant win of her career over the Churchill surface when she won the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes going 11⁄16 miles in November.
In Plum Pretty's first try beyond 1 mile, the Bob Baffert-trained daughter of Medaglia d'Oro won the 11⁄16-mile Sunland Oaks on the front end by 25 lengths on March 27.
"She's very lightly raced, but her last race in Sunland was pretty amazing," Baffert said. "I don't think I've had a horse win by 25. It's a big field so she still needs to be up there close I think."