Rail Trip will be making his first start at Del Mar in nearly three years when he lines up in the outside gate for the $200,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) July 28. The last appearance was in the 2009 Pacific Classic (gr. I) when Rail Trip, then considered one of the top handicap horses in the country, was beaten as the 5-2 favorite, finishing third behind Richard's Kid.
Now 7, the one-time stable star for owner Jay Em Ess has been back in trainer Ron Ellis' care for the past seven months. Ellis knows he's sending out an older gelding who has experienced plenty of adversity since his last race at Del Mar. Ellis is keeping an open mind on what Rail Trip will do in the San Diego.
“We’re going in with high hopes and no expectations,” Ellis said the morning before the race from his Betfair Hollywood Park base. “If he is his old self, he’ll win. I’m just concerned about him and not worried about anybody else in the race.”
The San Diego, at 1 1/16 miles on the Polytrack main course, is a "Win And You’re In" qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I). The victor from the field of seven will be guaranteed entry into the $1 million Dirt Mile Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park, and a $10,000 travel stipend.
But, of course, you have to win, which is something Rail Trip hasn’t done in eight starts since June of 2010.
Rail Trip was at his best for a one-year period starting in July of 2009. During that span under Ellis’ care, the Kentucky-bred son of Jump Start won the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) and was a close second to Awesome Gem in the 2010 edition. In between the Gold Cup efforts, Rail Trip finished third in the 2009 Pacific Classic, and notched grade II wins in the Mervyn LeRoy and Californian at Hollywood Park.
Shipped east after the 2010 Hollywood Gold Cup to the stable of trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., Rail Trip went winless in five starts over a 13-month period. The venture ended when Rail Trip stumbled badly leaving the gate on a muddy day at Aqueduct Racetrack and injured a foot.
Returned to Ellis in late December, Rail Trip came back to the races at Hollywood Park, finishing fourth of seven in a sprint, the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) in late May. In his follow-up race, the lanky bay ran second behind fellow San Diego Handicap entrant John Scott in an allowance optional claiming level event June 28.
“He’s doing great, we’re very happy with his progress,” Ellis said. “It’s kind of hard to get a line on him to this point, and this race will be a big gauge for us. If he looks good and appears to be rounding back into form we’ll be thinking about the Pacific Classic.
“It has been an uplifting experience for the whole barn to have him back and strutting around (the stable area) every day.”