03/15/2012 3:07PM

Santa Anita: Ellafitz at her peak for Santa Margarita

Shigeki Kikkawa
Ellafitz figures to be the one to catch in Saturday’s Grade 1 Santa Margarita Invitational at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. – It took quite a while for Ellafitz to grow up, but the wait has been worth it.

An underachiever for the first part of her career, Ellafitz, 5, has blossomed in recent months and now ranks as the leading older female on the West Coast. She will attempt to retain that position when she goes for her fourth straight victory on Saturday in the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational, the championship race of the meeting at Santa Anita for the division.

Only six are entered in the Santa Margarita, but fewer could start, owing to concerns over the weather at Santa Anita this weekend. A significant storm is expected to hit the area, beginning late Friday night. The Weather Channel forecast for Saturday calls for a 90 percent chance of rain here.

Ellafitz looks like the controlling speed in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Margarita, and a wet surface should make Santa Anita’s main track all the more favorable to her style. She has led from start to finish in her last three races, all wins, including the Santa Maria Stakes on Feb. 18.

Her trainer, Bob Baffert, said Ellafitz has gotten better because she grew into her frame.

“She was a weedy, light, big mare,” Baffert said Thursday morning at Santa Anita. “I turned her out at the end of 2010. There was nothing physically wrong with her. I just wanted to give her 60 days off. She came back, and after Del Mar – she hates Del Mar – all of a sudden she found herself.”

Baffert also trains Awesomemundo, who was a runaway winner against a second-level allowance field Feb. 19 in her first start since August. Baffert said the track condition could keep Awesomemundo in the barn.

“I’ll have to play it by ear,” he said. “She runs from off the pace. I wasn’t going to run her. But it looked like it was going to be a short field, so I thought I’d enter, at least to have an option.”

There are four others in the race, the most prominent being Include Me Out, who comes off the best race of her career, a 4 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 La Canada Stakes on Jan. 22 in her first start around two turns.

“We knew all along she wanted to run long,” said Ron Ellis, who trains Include Me Out. “It was nice to see her come through.”

Ellis said he kept Include Me Out from the Santa Maria, in which he ran Vision in Gold, largely because he thought the extra time would serve her well.

“She had run a lot recently,” Ellis said. “This gave her a chance to catch up to herself. She’s trained very well. Awesome, really. She seems like she’s on the top of her game.”

Miss Mittagong finished in a dead heat for second behind Ellafitz in the Santa Maria in her first try on dirt.

Love Theway Youare was fourth in the Santa Maria as well as the La Canada.

Kayce Ace was never a factor in the Santa Maria, finishing last of seven after getting away poorly from the gate. She was a distant fourth behind Ellafitz in the Paseana earlier this meet.