ELLAFITZ CONTINUES ELEVATION WITH GRITTY DOMINANCE OF GRADE II, $200,000 SANTA MARIA FOR THIRD STRAIGHT STAKES WIN

ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 18, 2012) – Ellafitz, the 5-year-old mare whom trainer Bob Baffert says is “getting better with age,” demonstrated her gritty resistance Saturday when turning back challenge after challenge as the front-running winner of Santa Anita’s Grade II, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

After 11 starts without a stakes victory, the bay daughter of Tiznow notched her third successive stakes win and second Grade II. But instead of running away from her competitors as she had done twice previously, Ellafitz dealt with them head-on Saturday while timed in 1:42.48.

First, Spirit Seeker took her run at the 4-5 favorite. She became discouraged. Next, third-choice Great Hot made a bid. She became discouraged. Finally, Miss Mittagong flung down the gauntlet. Little progress. Ellafitz and jockey Martin Garcia crossed the wire 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Miss Mittagong and defending champion Vision in Gold, the 3-1 second choice, who dead-heated for the place.

While illustrating another dimension for the maturing Ellafitz, 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.”

“She had pressure all the way around the track,” Garcia’s 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 and raised the Kentucky-bred mare’s lifetime earnings to $397,957 from a 6-2-2 record in 14 career starts.

Baffert said that, “if all goes well,” the next start of Ellafitz will come in the Grade I, $300,000 Santa Margarita Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on March 17.

Creative Cause, the leader among West Contenders in Churchill Downs’ Kentucky Derby Future Book Wager, makes his 3-year-old debut Sunday in Santa Anita’s 71st running of the Grade II, $150,000 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs. The program of nine races gets underway at 12:30 p.m.

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