(Trainer J. Larry Jones will saddle Stave in Ellis Park’s Stakes event today / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

By Jennie Rees

Ellis Park Media Team:

Ellis Park stages its first of 11 stakes this meet with Sunday’s $75,000 Ellis Park Turf for fillies and mares.

Among the fillies seeking to earn their first stakes victory is Hinkle Farms’ 4-year-old Stave, trained by Henderson favorite son Larry Jones. The daughter of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper comes into the 1 1/16-mile Ellis Park Turf off a snappy front-running victory in a third-level allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Stave ran without success in a couple of stakes last year but Jones says the filly is following in the path of her dam.

“We might be trying to read between the lines on this, because I trained her mother,” Jones said, referring to the E Dubai mare Buy the Barrel, who as a 4-year-old won three stakes, including Pimlico’s Grade 2 Allaire DuPont Distaff. “We’re using her racing career as a little bit of a guideline for what we’re doing with Stave, and knowing that Ghostzappers get a little better with age as well. But Buy the Barrel was better at 4 than she was at 3, and she was a good 3-year-old. But she really got good at 4. We’re hoping that Stave will follow the same line, and it looks like she probably is.

“She’s maturing now. Her size is getting up to what her mother was. We see a lot of her mother in her. We’re really happy with how she’s coming along.”

After Stave won a Churchill allowance race last fall, Jones gave her the winter off. She returned to finish second in a May 16 allowance race, with the EP Turf her third start off the layoff.

“We were just going to let her mature a little more,” Jones said of the time off. “You could tell she was beginning another growth spurt. Thank goodness, the Hinkle farm, they know horses and they were good on waiting. They were trying to do right by the horse, and I think they have.”

Stave ran in two stakes last year, finishing eighth and fifth before dropping back into the allowance ranks.

“Mentally, she’s a lot better,” Jones said. “Physically, she’s a little bigger and stronger. She’s always had some talent. But we’ve always had to also worry about not overloading her mentally. She acted like the kind of filly who gets, I’m not going to say flighty but maybe not handle situations real well. But now she has. We’re now proud we waited.”

Stave, who is ridden by Gabriel Saez, is the 7-2 third choice in the field of nine, with Calumet Farm’s Smart Shot the 5-2 favorite and LNJ Foxwoods’ Sensitive the 3-1 second choice.

Smart Shot, trained by Rusty Arnold, was second by a neck to the now-retired Mom’s On Strike in Churchill’s Grade 3 Mint Julep in her last start. She regains the services of jockey Corey Lanerie, who was busy winning New York’s Grade 1 Woody Stephens aboard 2018 Ellis maiden winner Hog Creek Hustle the day of the Mint Julep. Lanerie teamed with Smart Shot to win a second-level allowance race two races ago.

Sensitive is trained by 2018 Ellis Park meet-leader Brad Cox and also comes in off finishing second by a neck in stakes, the $100,000 Lone Star Turf. The daughter of Divine Park is a must play in the exactas, coming in off three straight seconds and with five runner-up finishes overall in 13 starts, which includes three wins and a third. Shaun Bridgmohan has the return mount.

A sign of the increasing West Coast presence in Kentucky, the Richard Baltas-trained Flammetta makes her first start outside of California in the EP Turf. That 4-year-old filly rolls in off a sequence of strong works.

Brendan Walsh can never be discounted and sends out Kallio off a second and third in Churchill allowance races. Kallio, who finished third in an Ellis maiden race on turf last summer, will be ridden for the first time by Julien Leparoux, the two-time Eclipse Award winner who will make his final cameo appearance at Ellis before heading to Saratoga for the summer.

“It’s a typical Kentucky stakes, we’re going to have to run to get the job done,” Jones said. “But she fits with this bunch on paper real well.

The complete field, in post position order, with jockey and morning-line odds: Smart Shot (Corey Lanerie, 5-2); Flammetta (Adam Beschizza, 6-1); American Frolic (Miguel Mena, 8-1); Kallio (Julien Leparoux, 8-1); Valentine Wish (James Graham, 15-1); Over Thinking (Stewart Elliott, 20-1); Sensitive (Shaun Bridgmohan, 3-1); Stave (Gabriel Saez, 7-2); Lady Mamba (Brian Hernandez Jr., 12-1).