02/14/2013 4:16PM

Jay Hovdey: Include Me Out rests now to be fresher for Breeders' Cup in fall

Benoit & Associates
Trainer Ron Ellis says the long-term goal for Include Me Out is this fall's Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic..

There is always a period of chaos that follows the reign of a benevolent leader, or at least that’s what we were taught in Medieval History 101 when considering the vacuum of enlightened rule left by the death of Charlemagne. But what’s that got to do with Rainbow Six?

Not a dang thing. It is the Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday that points dramatically to what life has been like for the best of the older fillies and mares in Southern California since Elvis left the building. That was in fall 2010, when Zenyatta and starship commander Mike Smith cut things as close as possible to win the Lady’s Secret Stakes in her farewell to the hometown crowd.

There are six major main-track races over a distance of ground open to all ages for females on the California calendar: the Santa Maria and Santa Margarita at Santa Anita in the winter, the Marjorie Everett (formerly the Milady) and Vanity at Betfair Hollywood Park, the Clement Hirsch at Del Mar, and the Zenyatta Stakes (formerly the Lady’s Secret) back at Santa Anita in the fall. Of the 18 runnings of those races during the Zenyatta epoch, 2008-10 A.D., she won 12.

(For those who would like to throw in the Bayakoa Handicap and its Grade 2 designation at Hollywood Park in December, fine. Bear in mind that by that time the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic usually has removed the best of both coasts from competition, and the race has never, ever, figured in season-ending championships.)

Beginning in 2011, with Zenyatta safely retired to motherhood, the races she monopolized once again became available for mass consumption. There have been nine different winners spread across the past two seasons, and a new face will emerge Saturday in the Santa Maria when La Brea Stakes winner Book Review meets the Jerry Hollendorfer team of Paseana Handicap winner Snow Fall and Bayakoa Handicap winner Lady of Fifty. Six were entered for the purse of $200,000.

The elephant missing from the room is Include Me Out, Samantha Siegel’s now 5-year-old daughter of Include who, during 2012, did her best to pick up the torch as the West’s alpha female. Include Me Out won the La Canada for 4-year-olds along with the Santa Margarita, the Marjorie Everett, and the Clement Hirsch. She proved to be mortal by finishing second in the Vanity and third in the Zenyatta before ending the season with an honorable third in the Ladies’ Classic.

To that point, Include Me Out had run the equivalent of once every five weeks for 15 months, dating back to her 2011 maiden win at Del Mar. This is not asking a lot of a sound horse with class, but that did not keep her trainer, Ron Ellis, from walking around wondering when his tough filly would cry, “No mas.”

As it turned out, it was the trainer who finally blinked. After the Ladies’ Classic, in which Include Me Out was beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Royal Delta and was more than six lengths ahead of the rest of the field, Ellis pulled the plug. The filly got two solid months of nothing and has just recently returned to easy gallops at Hollywood Park.

“We just walked her twice a day and then tried to keep her on the ground,” Ellis said. “She would play pretty hard in her stall, so you’ve got to worry about that. They get to tearing around in there and that can be a worry. But overall, she’s pretty smart, so it wasn’t that bad.

“We cut her feed back gradually during that first week off, then they’re just on a very small amount of grain,” the trainer continued. “You increase their alfalfa quite a bit, so they’re eating mostly alfalfa and timothy.

“She didn’t really lose a whole lot of muscle tone, although some horses do,” Ellis said. “It was only 60 days. Really, all she does is look better now. She was getting a little to where you could see her ribs, and I hate that. Now she’s gained some weight there, so she’s looking really good. Very dappled out.”

Which is what most healthy Thoroughbreds should look like if they are doing nothing but walking and munching and getting brushed to a high polish by loving hands who appreciated her earning more than $800,000 in 2012. The trainer was asked what happens when Include Me Out is required to do something other than be sociable.

“The big thing you’ve got to be careful of is their tendons and ligaments – the things they don’t really use while they’re let down,” Ellis replied. “You’ve got to come back slow to build them up. She could probably go out right now and work three-eighths of a mile and not get tired at all, but it would be the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that might not do so well.”

According to the Ellis timetable, Include Me Out probably will not be back to the races until May. He has the advantage, though, of not looking over his shoulder at a pre-existing condition.

“I’d run a horse through a nuclear scan after every time they raced if it was at all feasible,” Ellis said, referring to the pricey diagnostic tool that, in the case of a mare like Include Me Out, would be entirely feasible. “But she ran such a good race in the Breeders’ Cup, and everything looked absolutely perfect on her after the race, I didn’t even bother to do that.

“It’s a lot easier to bring a horse like that back from a break, because you aren’t rehabbing an injury,” Ellis added. “When you have to come back from an injury you’ve got to go a lot slower.”

Ellis had twinged when he looked at the entries for the Santa Maria, over which Include Me Out’s form would tower. He was philosophical.

“My goal is to get her to the Breeders’ Cup again this year and win it,” he said. “If she could run as well as she did in the race last year, when she was showing signs of having been training and racing more than a year, then I’m hoping she can be just that much better after only a six-month campaign.”