(Mitchell Murrill / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

From the Fair Grounds Media Team:

M Bar O LLC’s Elle Z broke running and never looked back in Fair Grounds Race Course & Slot’s $75,000 Pan Zareta, posting a 1-length win over 1.60 favorite Into Mystic.

Mitchell Murrill seized control of the race immediately with Elle Z, a 3-year-old daughter of City Zip who has an abundance of natural speed and used it early in the Pan Zareta. She set splits of 22.18 and 45.39, while maintaining a measured lead over defending champion Play On, with Into Mystic stalking outside in fifth. Elle Z came under pressure entering the far turn but cut the corner, kicked clear midstretch, and had plenty in reserve while holding off Into Mystic. Winning Envelope closed for third, while Play On faded to fourth.

“I had a little pressure to her outside but I kept letting her do her thing and stayed in front,” Murrill said.  “Once she was able to get there, she got a nice little breather. Off the far turn she pricked her ears up, got comfortable, and when I asked her to run, she gave everything she had.”

Elle Z entered as the most inexperienced filly in the full field of 12, having started just six times for trainer Chris Hartman, but she has come a long way in a short period of time. Murrill was familiar with the filly, but he rode her for the first time in her last start, an allowance win October 15 at Keeneland. He has been really impressed with the progress she’s made.

“That was the first time I had ridden her, but I had been working her in the mornings and she has really built off that win,” Murrill said. “She was a filly that had some complications jumping shadows and whatnot, so were cautious of that but we she been doing fantastic since.”

Elle Z has proven plenty precocious in her first season of racing as she made her debut a winning one on the dirt at Will Rogers Downs in May. She won on the turf at Ellis Park in her third start, and really moved forward in her Keeneland win. She’s now now 4-for-7 lifetime, and while she won at Keenland at 47-1 and was a healthy 13-1 in the Pan Zareta, Hartman wasn’t surprised by Saturday’s result.

“I honestly wasn’t afraid of any of them (in the Paz Zareta),” Hartman said, via phone from the Gold Room at Churchill Downs. “It takes a quick horse to get in front of her (Elle Z). My horse ran the way she has been training. Like Rodney Dangerfield, she doesn’t get any respect.”

Into Mystic was a decisive favorite based on a summer campaign that saw her win the Kentucky Downs Preview Ladies Sprint at Ellis Park in September and finish second in the Buffalo Trace Franklin County (G3) at Keeneland in October for trainer Brendan Walsh. The 4-year-old daughter of Paynter entered off a pace-setting 12th—though she was beaten just 7 lengths—against males in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) and made a late run in the Paz Zareta under Ricardo Santana Jr., over a course that may have played against her.

“The turf is really speedy and she (Elle Z) didn’t come back to us,” Santana said. “I had my filly off the speed and she finished really well, we just couldn’t’ get to the winner.”

Fair Grounds’ second week of racing concludes Sunday with a nine-race card that has a first post of 1:00 p.m. CT.