Ellafitz, allowed to go it alone on a lackadaisical pace, proved too much to handle in the stretch as she registered her first stakes victory in the $150,000 Bayakoa Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) by 3 1/4 lengths at Hollywood Park Dec. 4.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert picked up his first win in the Bayakoa with the 9-2 shot. Ellafitz, a 4-year-old daughter of Tiznow owned by David and Ella Sivage's D & E Racing, was making her first start since finishing last in the restricted Adoration Stakes at Del Mar Sept. 4.
The winner, out of the Dixieland Band mare Skat Girl, was bred in Kentucky by Mineola Farm, David R. Houchin, and James W. Hirschmann.
Ellafitz completed the 1 1/16-mile event for fillies and mares in 1:42.69. Miss Mittagong, making her United States stakes debut for trainer Ben Cecil, finished second, three-quarters of a length in front of Bauble Queen.
Baffert said the owners paid in the low six figures for Ellafitz in a private purchase.
"She’s had little things that bothered her, but she’s getting better with age," the trainer said. "She’s been really working well and we couldn’t find a race for her, that’s why she’s had a lot of time off. I’ve been trying to find an allowance race for her but it wouldn’t fill.
"Then she worked a great and then I said, 'You know what, I’m going to run her in the Bayakoa if she’s doing that well.' I think this race may have been her best by far.”
Ridden by Martin Garcia, Ellafitz went directly to the lead over Champagne d'Oro, who broke a step slowly and hustled into contention on the outside of Ellafitz. The front-runner led by about 1 1/2 lengths while carving tepid fractions of :24.15, :48.18, and 1:12.31.
Ellafitz reached the top of the stretch in control after Champagne d'Oro gave way. Miss Mittagong, stalking in third through the far turn for Joel Rosario, took up the chase through the lane but was never going to get to the winner. Ellafitz led by two lengths at the eighth pole and increased her advantage under urging from Garcia.
“I wanted to let her set her own pace and she relaxed real nice," Garcia said. "When I asked her to go, she just kicked. It was pretty easy. Every single time when she has some time off she improves. When she’s ready to come back, she lets you know. I’ve been on her in the mornings and let’s just say I loved the way she was working.”
Miss Mittagong held the place spot over the late-arriving Bauble Queen, who rallied for Martin Pedroza, subbing for the injured Rafael Bejarano.
Ellafitz's previous start on Hollywood's Cushion Track produced a 5 1/2-length victory over an optional claiming allowance field at 1 1/16 miles July 1. She improved her overall record to 4-2-2 in 12 starts with earnings of $230,857.
The winner carried 116 pounds and paid $11.80, $6.60, and $5 as the third choice. Miss Mittagong returned $8.80 and $4.80 and rounded out a $97.60 exacta. The show price on Bauble Queen was $3.20.
City to City, the 121-pound high weight and 8-5 favorite in the field of seven, finished a non-threatening fifth, a nose behind Love Theway Youare. Washington Bridge, the defending Bayakoa winner, finished sixth, with Champagne d'Oro last.