Ellafitz tries for her first grade I victory in the Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes.

Ellafitz tries for her first grade I victory in the Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes.

Benoit Photo

Santa Margarita: Ellafitz Seeks Grade I Glory

Tiznow mare faces five opponents while attempting to stretch win streak to four.

On a three-race stakes winning streak for trainer Bob Baffert, Ellafitz will go for her first grade I victory against five opponents in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes (gr. I) March 17 at Santa Anita.

Just seven were nominated to Santa Anita's premier race for older fillies and mares at nine furlongs on the main track, which could have an off track with the likelihood of rain in the forecast. The weather channel is predicting a 60% chance of precipitation on Saturday.

The late-developing 5-year-old Ellafitz has already won twice at the current meet, taking the Pasaena Handicap in January and the Santa Maria Stakes (gr. II) Feb. 18. The daughter of Tiznow , who races for David and Ella Sivage, started her winning streak with a victory in the Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park in December. The Bayakoa was her first stakes win, which came in her 12th lifetime start

Ellafitz will attempt to give Baffert his first triumph in the Santa Margarita, which is the eighth race on the St. Patrick's Day program with a 4:07 p.m. PDT post. Her main rivals are Include Me Out, who romped to victory over her 4-year-old rivals in the La Canada Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 22, and Miss Mittagong, who finished in a dead-heat for second in the Santa Maria.

“She’s in a zone right now,” said Baffert of Ellafitz, who is out of the Dixieland Band mare Skat Girl. Baffert also entered Awesomemundo, making her stakes debut for Jill Baffert, the trainer's wife.

Ellafitz was under heavy pressure all the way as the 4-5 favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Maria before inching away gamely in the final furlong to defeat Miss Mittagong and Vision in Gold by 1 1/4 lengths.

Baffert said, “Ellafitz runs hard, she runs fast. Last time, they took all kinds of shots at her. She took a lot of heat and kept going. They sent a rabbit out there, but my mare is doing better for this race than she was before the last race.”

Martin Garcia is once again aboard Ellafitz, who totes high weight of 120 pounds. She spots each of her rivals two pounds and will break from post 4. Ellafitz sports a career record of 6-2-2 in 14 races with earnings of $397,957.

Jay Em Ess Stable's Include Me Out put it all together for her first stakes win in the 1 1/16-mile La Canada, which she captured by 4 1/4 lengths at odds of 8-1. It was the first route try for the daughter of Include , coming in her seventh career start after a fifth-place effort in the seven-furlong La Brea.

“She just looked comfortable all the way,” trainer Ron Ellis said afterward. “She’s just been learning coming up to this, but pedigree-wise she wanted to go two turns. I felt good about it.”

Include Me Out, who likes to stalk and pounce, has won three of seven races with two seconds. Talamo has the mount again.

Miss Mittagong, from the Ben Cecil barn, made a strong rail bid for Mario Gutierrez in the Santa Maria but was out-kicked by Ellafitz in the final stages at 19-1 odds. The 5-year-old Pleasantly Perfect mare draws the rail for the rematch. Miss Mittagong was also second to Ellafitz in the Bayakoa. Gutierrez retains the mount.

Awesomemundo steps into stakes company for the first time following a 7 1/2-length tally in an optional claiming race at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 19. The 4-year-old Awesome Again  filly has won three of six lifetime starts for the Bafferts.

Eoin Harty, Baffert's former assistant, can probably attest to the improvement of Ellafitz as well as anyone. His Santa Margarita entrant, Casner Racing's Kayce Ace, defeated Elllafitz by a neck in an allowance race at Hollywood last spring. But in her two most recent starts, the Pasaena and the Santa Maria, Ellafitz has finished a combined 25 3/4 lengths ahead of Kayce Ace.

Rounding out the field is Love Theway Youare, a gradually closing fourth in the Santa Maria for owner/trainer Myung Kwon Cho.

The St. Patrick’s Day racing program includes the scheduled appearance of downhill turf course specialist Unzip Me in the $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares at 6 1/2 furlongs. Unzip Me won the race in 2010 and will be a heavy favorite to do so once again if the event stays on the hillside turf course.

$300,000 Santa Margarita Inv. Stakes (gr. I, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), Fillies & Mares 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Miss Mittagong (KY), M Gutierrez, 118, B D Cecil
2. Love Theway Youare (KY), J Rosario, 118, M K Cho
3. Kayce Ace (KY), V Espinoza, 118, E G Harty
4. Ellafitz (KY), M Garcia, 120, B Baffert
5. Include Me Out (KY), J Talamo, 118, R W Ellis
6. Awesomemundo (KY), M E Smith, 118, B Baffert