Grade I winner Rail Trip made a favorable impression in his first start since an unplaced effort in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) last fall, returning to Belmont Park June 5 with a strong runner-up finish behind Friend Or Foe in the Easy Goer Stakes (VIDEO).
Friend Or Foe, ridden by Alex Solis, got up before the wire by a head over the pacesetting Rail Trip and Ramon Dominguez in a swift running of the Easy Goer. The final time for the one-turn event at 1 1/16 miles was 1:40.13, slightly off the track mark of 1:39.38 set by Birdrun in October 2009.
With Dominguez aboard him for the first time, Rail Trip posted lively fractions of :23.23, :46.01, and 1:09.14 on the fast main track. Rail Trip led by 1 1/2 lengths in the final furlong, but could not quite outlast Friend Or Foe after Solis let the even-money favorite have his head in the lane. Rail Trip carried 122 pounds, two more than the winner.
Just four contested the Easy Goer with the scratch of Mission Impazible , and fans were solidly behind Chester and Mary Broman's New York homebred Friend Or Foe, also making his first start of the year for trainer John Kimmel.
The 4-year-old Friends Lake colt raced in third down the backstretch, about two lengths behind Rail Trip before advancing into second midway on the turn for home. Friend Or Foe pursued the leader through the lane and drew close in the final strides, getting up just in time for his fifth victory in eight lifetime starts.
“It was a sharp effort by both horses,” Kimmel said. “He kind of ground (Rail Trip) down and showed his fitness was up to where I wanted it to be. He sat off the pace and made a good run in racehorse time.”
Friend Or Foe's next start, said Kimmel, will likely be in the Suburban Handicap (gr. II) at 1 1/8 miles July 2.
“Hopefully he cycles back in and will be ready for the Suburban,” said the trainer. “I would prefer that he didn’t have to run so hard to win, but I think he’ll move forward off the race if he gets enough time. It was a very good race. This is a really good horse, and I hope to have a really good campaign with him.”
Now trained by Rick Dutrow Jr., Jay Em Ess Stable's 6-year-old Rail Trip is winless in two starts on dirt since his owners transferred the Jump Start gelding to New York from Southern California. He has earned more than $1 million in his career while winning eight of 14 lifetime starts.
Previously conditioned by Ron Ellis, Rail Trip captured the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) by three lengths in addition to taking last year's Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) and the Californian (gr. II) in back-to-back efforts at Hollywood Park.
Rail Trip switched barns following a second-place finish to Awesome Gem as the 2-5 favorite in the 2010 Hollywood Gold Cup. In his only other start since, the Kentucky-bred bay faded to fifth for Dutrow in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last Oct. 2, finishing 16 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Haynesfield .
Friend Or Foe, coming off a fifth-place finish in the Cigar Mile Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct Nov. 27, paid $4.20 and $2.60 while boosting his career earnings to $295,634. Rail Trip, who returned $2.70 to place, was 5 1/4 lengths clear of third-place Convocation. The latter rallied belatedly for Rajiv Maragh to finish 2 1/4 lengths in front of the trailing Tahitian Warrior.