LOUISVILLE — Joyful Victory is one of the more genial figures in trainer Larry Jones' shedrow, attracting glances with her sterling coat and keeping visitors on their toes with her playful, treat-seeking demeanor.
Easy as it is to find the Grade I-winning daughter of Tapit affable, discovering what she likes has been a more involved process for Jones. Count Santa Anita Park as one of the tracks that has earned her approval, a fortuitous fact considering the Arcadia oval is likely to be the site of the 5-year-old mare's final career outing.
There are few outright bad performances among Joyful Victory's 19 starts, with seven wins and eight on-the-board efforts. Something about Santa Anita particularly agrees with Fox Hill Farms' distaffer, however, a fact Jones hopes holds true when she starts in a salty edition of the Grade I, $250,000 Zen-yatta Stakes against the likes of champion Beholder on Saturday.
Formerly known as the Lady's Secret, the 11⁄16-mile Zenyatta is among the five Grade I races at Santa Anita with Belmont Park hosting five more Grade I races to make up a monster "Super Saturday" slate of racing.
Top-level wins were something Joyful Victory always teased she was capable of in her first three seasons, but it wasn't until she scored a four-length victory in the Grade I Santa Margarita Stakes at Santa Anita in March that all her intangibles came together.
Ever the Southern gentleman, Jones takes most of the heat for some of his charge's lesser efforts — like her fifth-place run in the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont this May — for not heeding her preferences.
"She's done a lot better this year and I can look back on her career when she's thrown her bad races and can (attribute) a lot of that to Larry Jones," he said. "It's just we made the wrong choices at the wrong time or maybe we just didn't get the trip we were looking for. Generally she shows up but she's a little finicky. She's not (2011 Horse of the Year) Havre de Grace that can overcome all things. She likes to have certain things go certain ways for her.
"She's a little peculiar. But on good days when everything is right, she's a good horse."
Joyful Victory has made clear she prefers flashing her early speed around two turns, which she will get Saturday, rather than one, as she had to do at Belmont.
In her first-ever start at Santa Anita last year, Joyful Victory ran second in the Zenyatta Stakes to Love and Pride but her connections opted to bypass the Breeders' Cup Distaff there in November and put her in the Grade II Chilukki at Churchill Downs instead.
Though based at the Louisville track a chunk of the year, she doesn't particularly love that surface either, sporting an 0-for-4 career mark there including her second-place effort that day.
With the Breeders' Cup back at Santa Anita this November and Joyful Victory's career winding down, Jones hopes she is done holding herself back.
"More than likely this is her last year to race," Jones said. "Last year we were still looking at another year of racing so we still felt like we needed to protect her a bit. But now it's time to go.
"We've kind of learned what tracks she likes and Santa Anita's track has been very kind to her on that. So if all goes well, she'll be back for the Breeders' Cup."
Joyful Victory likely won't have an uncontested venture to the front Saturday when she leaves from post No. 7. Reigning champion juvenile filly Beholder and graded stakes winner Authenticity both start farther inside.
Freshened after her runner-up finish in the Kentucky Oaks, Beholder returned Sept. 1 to win the Torrey Pines Stakes at Del Mar in what was essentially a paid workout.
"It takes a pretty fast horse to set a pace for her, but ... I have never seen any reason that she wouldn't sit off of one or a couple and still give it her best shot," said Richard Mandella, trainer of Beholder.
Authenticity, who pressed Joyful Victory early in the Ogden Phipps, was most recently second to champion Royal Delta in the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga.
"Authenticity and Beholder are both really good quality horses," Jones said. We'll just go out and see what we got."
When: Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, Calif.
When: About 8 p.m. EDT
Distance: 11⁄16 miles
For: Fillies and mares, 3 years old and up