Joyful Victory and Brushed by a Star, who have faced each other three times since November, will take their well-developed rivalry out west for Saturday's Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Margarita, Santa Anita's premier race for older fillies and mares, at 1 1/8 miles.
Brushed by a Star, who won four times and was thrice second in seven starts last season, had the upper hand on Joyful Victory last fall, beating her rival by a head in the Grade 2 Chilukki and then by 5 1/2 lengths in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap, both at Churchill Downs. The latter race culminated a frustrating season for Joyful Victory, who failed to win beyond the February 11 Tiffany Lass while finishing second or third in the final five starts of her campaign.
The momentum recently shifted in Joyful Victory's favor. Lining up in the inaugural Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston on January 26, the gray Tapit mare was sent straight to the lead by Rosie Napravnik and drew off to a 4 1/4-length victory over Brushed by a Star in the $400,000 contest over 1 1/16 miles. Joyful Victory will likely have more backing in this round as well, due in no small part to her fine second in the Grade 1 Zenyatta in her only other try over the Santa Anita strip last September.
Leading the home defense are More Chocolate, a 1 3/4-length winner of the Grade 2 La Canada in her dirt debut, and Great Hot, a wire-to-wire winner of the Grade 2 Santa Maria Handicap last time in her first race with blinkers. Completing the field of six are Paseana Handicap winner Snow Fall, who ran fourth in the Santa Maria, and the claimer The Only Key.
The Grade 2, $150,000 San Luis Rey, over 1 1/2 miles on turf, features a rematch of the two finishers from the 2012 edition -- Borubon Bay and Slim Shadey. The latter would seem to have more going for him at present following a successful title defense in the Grade 2 San Marcos over 10 furlongs, and the speedy gelding will break from post 1 under Gary Stevens.
Bourbon Bay, who followed up his San Luis Rey victory with a thrilling photo-finish triumph in the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap, has raced just twice in the past 11 months, finishing eighth in the Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship in September and sixth in the Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup in December.
Bright Thought might cause some trouble for Slim Shadey following two front-running wins over the Santa Anita turf this winter, including a 5 1/4-length decision over entry-level allowance rivals last month. Another with tactical foot is the multiple stakes winner John Scott, who re-rallied to beat California-breds in the Crystal Water Handicap in January.
Besides Bourbon Bay, other off-the-pace contenders are Interaction and All Squared Away, second and third, respectively, in the February 9 San Marcos.