05/31/2011 4:39PM

Hollywood Park: Long-idle Kayce Ace returns in tough spot

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Kayce Ace makes her comeback after a layoff of nearly seven months in an allowance race at Hollywood Park on Thursday, facing a field that concerns trainer Eoin Harty.

“I picked a tough spot,” he said. “I’ve had her ready to run. Whether she’s ready to take on those kind of horses, I don’t know.”

The competition includes the speedy Ellafitz, stakes-placed at Del Mar last summer but unraced since December; Jax El, stakes-placed here in the Fran’s Valentine Stakes on May 22; Makoma, third in an optional claimer on April 22; as well as Elvies Lane, Gripsholm Castle, and Megaspiel.

One concern for Harty is the pace scenario. Jax El, who is making her fourth start of the spring-summer meeting and 10th of the year for trainer Barry Abrams, is likely to set the pace, but could face pressure from Ellafitz, who is trained by Bob Baffert and often races near the lead. Typical of a Baffert-trained runner, Ellafitz has worked quickly in recent weeks, including six furlongs in 1:10 from the gate at Santa Anita on May  26.

Jax El, a 4-year-old filly by Unusual Heat, has won twice this year, an allowance race at Santa Anita on the main track and an optional claimer over a mile on turf here on May 8.

Harty would like to see Kayce Ace near the front, but knows that sending her in this situation could be dangerous with Jax El and Ellafitz in the field.

“She runs her best races when she’s on the lead,” Harty said. “She’ll be forwardly placed.”

Owned by Casner Racing, Kayce Ace was well regarded before her career began. She is a full sister to Colonel John, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes in 2008. Colonel John won 6 of 15 starts and $1,779,012.

Makoma, trained by John Shirreffs, could be the beneficiary of a quick pace. A winner of 2 of 5 starts, she won a maiden special weight race for sprinters last October in her debut and an optional claimer over a mile at Santa Anita earlier this year in her fourth start, closing from off the pace.

Makoma finished third, beaten seven lengths, in an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles here on April 22, a race in which the pace was slow. Jockey Chantal Sutherland rides Makoma for the first time on Thursday.