The 5-year-old mare, whom trainer Bob Baffert says is “getting better with age,” won the 1 1/16-mile main track event for older fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over Miss Mittagong and Vision in Gold, who finished in a dead-heat for second.
After 11 starts without a stakes victory, the bay daughter of Tiznow notched her third successive stakes win and second in a grade II race. But instead of running away from her competitors as she had done twice previously, Ellafitz dealt with them head-on while timed in 1:42.48 over a fast track with Martin Garcia aboard.
The 60th running of the Santa Maria provided the rider-trainer combination of Baffert and Garcia with its third victory of the afternoon.
“She had to earn it today,” Baffert said in the winner’s circle.“Everybody took her on and the way she fought back was pretty gallant. In order to beat her, they tried to do that, but that’s part of horse racing. You’ve just got to deal with it when you have a front-runner.
“They tried to go with her, but she’s so tough, the way she held everybody off. I thought maybe she’d cave in at the end. She’s just showing that she’s getting better and better. Once she gets in her groove, she’s got a lot of Game On Dude in her. She really fought.”
Ellafitz carved fractions of :22.77, :46.24, and 1:10.48 but could never put much distance on her competitors.
“She had pressure all the way around the track,” Garcia said, “but that’s the way she likes to run. She was alone on the front, and when the other horses got involved, she responded and didn’t let them pass. Today, she did what she wanted to do and just kept going. Whenever I asked her, she just took off.”
Ellafitz paid $3.60, $2.60, and $2.10. Miss Mittagong, ridden by Mario Gutierrez, returned $4 and $4.60. Vision in Gold, with Joel Rosario aboard, paid $2.40 and $3.
The biggest payday of Ellafitz’s career was worth $120,000 to the D and E Racing partnership of David and Ella Sivage. The Kentucky-bred mare’s lifetime earnings extended to $397,957 from a 6-2-2 record in 14 career starts.
Mineola Farm II, David R. Houchin, and James W. Hirschmann bred the winner. The bay is out of the Dixieland Band mare Skat Girl.
Baffert said that Ellafitz could go next in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Stakes (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles on March 17.