“She’s in a zone right now,” trainer Bob Baffert said of the bay daughter of Tiznow who did not win her first stakes race until last Dec. 11 when taking the Grade II Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park in her 12th start. Moving to Santa Anita, Ellafitz promptly followed with impressive victories in the Paseana Handicap and the Grade II Santa Maria on Feb. 18.
If she runs to expectations, the mare owned by the D.& E. Racing partnership of David and Ella Sivage will fill one of the few major voids in the Hall of Fame trainer’s ample dossier. Baffert has never reached the winner’s circle following a running of the Santa Margarita.
Santa Anita will celebrate the event’s 75th running by recognizing a blessed event in the life of the special mare who won the race two years ago. A poster of Zenyatta and her recently born first foal, a colt by Bernardini, will be distributed to fans in a promotion being called “a baby shower.”
Baffert will double team this year’s Santa Margarita while also sending out the 4-year-old Awesome Again filly Awesomemundo in search of her first stakes win, but Ellafitz, ridden by Martin Garcia, will represent the heavy ammunition.
Her victory in the Santa Maria demonstrated her grit when turning back challenge after challenge. “She’s just showing that she’s getting better and better,” Baffert said afterward. “Once she gets in her groove, she’s got a lot of Game On Dude in her. She really fought. She’s just getting better with age.”
Named for her dam, Skat Girl, a reference to the late jazz legend, Ella FitzGerald, Kentucky-bred Ellafitz has earned $397,957 from a 6-2-2 record in 14 career starts.
Her opposition includes Jay Em Ess Stable’s Include Me Out, freshened since capturing the Grade II La Canada Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. She won by 4 ¼ lengths in an 8-1 upset on Jan. 22. The dominant win came in the 4-year-old Include filly’s seventh start and her first around two turns.
“She just looked comfortable all the way,” trainer Ron Ellis said following Include Me Out’s La Canada triumph under jockey Joe Talamo. “She’s just been learning coming up to this, but pedigree-wise she wanted to go two turns. I felt good about it.”
Talamo will be back aboard the $150,000 sales purchase who has earned $183,600 from a 3-2-0 record in seven starts.
The complete field for the Santa Margarita Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Miss Mittagong, Mario Gutierrez, 118; LoveTheway Youare, Joel Rosario, 118; Kayce Ace, Victor Espinoza, 118; Ellafitz, Martin Garcia, 120; Include Me Out, Joseph Talamo, 118, and Awesomemundo, Mike Smith, 118.
The St. Patrick’s Day program includes the scheduled appearance of downhill turf course specialist Unzip Me in the 15th running of the $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares at 6 ½ furlongs.
If the race stays on the grass, which would be unlikely if the rain being forecast materializes, Unzip Me would be a prohibitive favorite in a field of eight. The 6-year-old daughter of City Zip has won 7 of 11 starts including six stakes competitions over the layout. She won the 2010 running of the Irish O’Brien.
But the mare trained by Marty Jones never has raced over a dirt surface during a career that includes a 14-4-4 record from 25 starts. If she were to win a second Irish O’Brien, her career earnings of $959,228 would eclipse $1 million for breeders Harris Farms and Donald Valpredo and their ownership partners. With Rafael Bejarano riding at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, Hall of Famer Mike Smith picks up the mount aboard the mare who has been ridden by Bejarano in her last 11 starts.
The complete field for the Irish O’Brien Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Unzip Me, Smith, 122; Bench Glory, Brice Blanc, 117; Advance Ticket, Kevin Krigger, 117; Lindz Winz, Edwin Maldonado, 117; Secret Cove, Talamo, 117; Halo Dolly, Joel Rosario, 119; Camille C, David Flores, 117, and Sunburn, Espinoza, 117.
The Santa Margarita is scheduled as the eighth on a program of nine races with first post at 12:30 p.m. The Irish O’Brien goes as the fourth race.