09/27/2012 2:44PM

Hovdey: Jones cowboys up with Joyful Victory


The philosophers insist that if you want to give God a good belly laugh, make a plan. If that’s true, He must have been howling to the heavens early last spring when Rick Porter casually broached the idea of running his 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace one time at Santa Anita in the fall to get a race over the track before taking a shot at the 2012 version of the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Barely three weeks later Porter announced that Havre de Grace was injured and retired.

Still, resilience counts for something. Porter and his trainer, Larry Jones, have survived a rocky gamut of emotions when it comes to the good horses they’ve shared.

In 2007 Porter and Jones campaigned Hard Spun, who in just about any other year would have been hands-down the best 3-year-old in the land. Instead, Hard Spun had to battle for what attention he could while Curlin, Street Sense, Rags to Riches, and Any Given Saturday hogged the stage.

In 2008, Porter and Jones watched Eight Belles beat all the boys but one in the Kentucky Derby, and then moments later were faced with the awful sight of their brave filly crumpled on the clubhouse turn after breaking both front ankles.

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It was suspicious heat in an ankle that retired Havre de Grace 11 days before she was scheduled to run in the La Troienne last May 4 at Churchill Downs.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed,” Jones said. “But the beauty of it was when she left the barn she was basically going for an exam to see why that ankle was carrying heat. We did not know at the time it would be career-ending, and she sure didn’t know she had a problem. So if it had to end it was good to see her go out that way.”

Jones made it to California anyway, to run in the $250,000 Zenyatta Stakes on Saturday with Porter’s Joyful Victory, winner of the 2011 Fantasy Stakes and most recently second, after a five-month break, in the Gardenia Stakes at Ellis Park. She’s no Havre de Grace, but she’ll do.

The Zenyatta is one of five major stakes offered on Saturday at Santa Anita, all of them rife with Breeders’ Cup implications. Stir in the six fabulous stakes races offered in the same vein at Belmont Park on the same afternoon and you have one of those rare days when horse racing can pretty much park its cares and woes and just enjoy the show.

Joyful Victory, a daughter of Tapit, will be facing a Zenyatta field that features West Coast division leader Include Me Out and Matriarch winner Star Billing, the one-two finishers in the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar, as well as the major stakes winners Switch, Love Theway Youare, Amani, and New York invader Love and Pride. Obviously, Jones thinks a lot of his filly to travel from Kentucky for such a challenge.

“Maybe I’m just that silly,” he replied. “But what you always want to do when you get a horse beat at Ellis Park is you try an find an easier spot – unless there’s a Grade 1 in California.”

Jones sense of humor was at that moment being tested while standing in line to be licensed by the California Horse Racing Board, one of the many petty indignities heaped upon horsemen by racing’s bureaucracies. This was the same easily recognizable Larry Jones who, the last time he was in California in January, stood beaming proudly on stage at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel while Porter accepted the golden Horse of the Year Eclipse Award for Havre de Grace.

Come to think of it, Jones wasn’t wearing his trademark cowboy hat and white chaps that night, which did cause more than one person to look twice. He’s been back in uniform this week at Santa Anita preparing Joyful Victory for the Zenyatta, and getting plenty of help from the likes of Bob Baffert.

“Baffert said the license allowed for wearing a cowboy hat only 10 days out here,” Jones said. “If I’m coming back for the Breeders’ Cup I’ve got to time it right.”

Joyful Victory, who will be ridden for the first time in the Zenyatta by Rosie Napravnik, cost $400,000 at auction as a young 2-year-old. She has won four of her dozen starts.

“We always thought a lot of her as a 3-year-old, but then she came up with a knee,” Jones said. “She came back strong earlier this year, then was sidelined again. Nothing major – just racehorse stuff. She might not have been as fit as I thought coming back in the Gardenia, though she’s been training great since.

“Being by Tapit, she’s never going to be called fat,” Jones added. “But physically right now she’s at the best she’s ever been. And she just floated over this track here today.”

Jones should know. He was on her, as usual, as he was Havre de Grace through her championship year under his care. Both Havre de Grace and Joyful Victory were trained by Tony Dutrow until Jones emerged in late 2010 from a brief retirement and was reunited with Porter.

Joyful Victory pretty much needs to win the Zenyatta if she’s even going to make the line-up for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, to be run Friday, Nov. 2. The Zenyatta is a Win and You’re In event, which would take care of both her eligibility and fees.

More importantly, Joyful Victory must prove she is good enough to take on a bunch that could include not only the West’s best, but also a deep East Coast group comprised of Awesome Feather, My Miss Aurelia, Questing, It’s Tricky, and Royal Delta, the defending Ladies’ Classic champ.

“The game plan was to be here with Havre de Grace,” Jones said. “I’m hoping maybe this filly can at least fill part of those big shoes.”