SANTA MARIA STAKES | PURSE: $200,000 | GRADE 2 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | 1 1/16 MILES
Ellafitz led all the way home in the Grade 2, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, scoring by 1 1/4 lengths over a furiously rallying Vision in Gold and Miss Mittagong, who dead-heated for second. The bay mare, trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Martin Garcia, finished up the 1 1/16-mile affair in 1:42 2/5 over the fast main track.
"She had pressure all the way around the track, but that's the way she likes to run," Garcia said. "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 and just kept going. Whenever I asked her, she just took off. She's a pretty good filly."
Ellafitz shot straight to the lead when the gates opened, setting a quick opening split of :22 3/5 while pressed by Spirit Seeker. That one began backing out as Great Hot moved up and kept pressure on Ellafitz through fractions of :46 1/5 and 1:10 2/5. Great Hot tried to challenge rounding the turn but couldn't keep pace with Ellafitz entering the lane.
Meanwhile, Miss Mittagong, who had been biding her time down on the rail, drew closer while saving ground and briefly threatened in the stretch. It wasn't enough, though, as Ellafitz dug in under vigorous urging from Garcia to pull out the victory.
"She had to earn it today. Everybody took her on and the way she fought back was pretty gallant," Baffert remarked. "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, and she like took off again 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."
Vision in Gold raced in the rear throughout the race but came flying down the center of the track to finish in tandem with Miss Mittagong. The dead-heating runner-ups had 2 1/2 lengths to spare over Love Theway Youare, who was followed under the wire by Spirit Seeker, Great Hot and Kayce Ace.
Ellafitz, who races in the colors of David and Ella Sivage's D & E Racing LLC, scored her third straight stakes victory in this spot, having previously added the Grade 2 Bayakoa and Paseana Handicaps to her line. Those were her first black-type wins, and the bay daughter of Tiznow also placed in the 2010 editions of the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel and Torrey Pines Stakes. Now 14-6-2-2 lifetime, she has earned $397,957.
Baffert said that the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Margarita Stakes going 1 1/8 miles on March 17 would be next for Ellafitz "if all goes well."
Bred in Kentucky by Mineola Farm II LLC, David R. Houchin and James W. Hirschmann, Ellafitz was a $30,000 RNA as a Fasig-Tipton July yearling before selling for $34,000 at Fasig-Tipton October. She is out of the unraced Dixieland Band mare Skat Girl, who is a half-sister to the dams of Grade 2 victor Ventana and Grade 3 scorer Primitive Hall, who ran second in the 1995 Grade 1 Donn Handicap.
Ellafitz's third dam is the *Gallant Man mare Avie, who is best known for producing multiple Grade 1-winning champion and sire Lord Avie. Avie is also the dam of Grade 2 winner Jolly Johu, who ran second in the 1974 Belmont Stakes.