Grade I winner Rail Trip posted his first victory in more than two years when he outlasted a determined John Scott by a half-length in the $200,000 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) July 28 at Del Mar (VIDEO) .
Rail Trip is likely for the $1 million Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 26 against what is shaping up early as a stellar field. The 7-year-old Jump Start gelding also locked up a starting berth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park for his win in the San Diego, a "Win & You're In" event.
It has been a long road back for Rail Trip, now back in the Southern California barn of Ron Ellis for owner Samantha Siegel. Rail Trip endured an injury-plagued year on the East Coast under trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. and never showed the quality there he displayed in Southern California victories such as the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I).
“It was great. It was awesome. I think he really needed a win," Ellis said. "The thing I’ve noticed about him since he came back was he didn’t have that swagger he did when he was winning. I think this race will help him get that back."
Rail Trip won for the first time since taking the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) and Californian (gr. II) in back-to-back efforts at Betfair Hollywood Park in the spring of 2010. Following a runner-up finish to Awesome Gem in the 2010 Gold Cup, Rail Trip was shipped East, where he was winless in five starts on dirt.
After injuring a foot in the mud at Aqueduct Racetrack in an overnight stakes last November, Rail Trip was transferred back to Southern California where he could, once healthy again, compete on synthetic tracks. With the San Diego win, all nine of the lanky bay's victories have come on synthetics, as well as four seconds, and a third from 15 races.
He had two prior starts this year in his comeback for Ellis and was coming off a fine second to San Diego pacesetter John Scott in an allowance/optional claiming race at Hollywood Park June 28. The San Diego victory ended an eight-race losing skein.
“I said if he won this race we’d consider the Pacific Classic and we’ll certainly give it some thought," Ellis said. "We’ll see how he trains and how we go forward but it’s going to be a consideration.”
Rail Trip, set up nicely by winning jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. on the outside of the slight 3-1 choice John Scott, stayed right on the leader while three wide early through soft fractions. He took the lead turning for home but could not get any distance on John Scott before getting control at mid-stretch. Rail Trip maintained his narrow edge to the wire under urging from Valdivia over a game John Scott.
"Ron said this race would tell us where he (Rail Trip) was," said Valdivia, who has ridden Rail Trip in his three races this year. "Either he’ll be back to his old self, or he’s lost a step. I’d say he’s back. He ran great. He was game all the way. It is so good to see him back to this level. He’s a special horse and he’s been through a lot. All that time back east. It’s so good to see him back to this level."
John Scott, making his first stakes appearance since finishing fourth in the 2009 Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) for trainer Carla Gaines, wound up second under Victor Espinoza.
“We saved all we could and he ran good," Espinoza said of the runner-up. "I wish I wasn’t stuck down inside, though. I think it was deeper down there and that he could have run better if he was outside.”
The stalking Kettle Corn , a half-length farther back after being fractious in the starting gate, nipped the closer Take Control by a head for third.
Final time for the 1 1/16-mile distance was 1:43.14 following earlier quarter-mile splits of :25.13, :49.98, and 1:14.14. The slow tempo certainly compromised a number of the competitors in the field.
Rail Trip, bred in Kentucky by Donarra Thoroughbreds, is out of the Carson City mare Sweet Trip.
Sent off as the 9-2 fifth choice in the field of seven, Rail Trip improved his career mark to 9-6-1 in 20 races with earnings of $1,253,790. He had only one previous start at Del Mar, finishing third in the 2009 Pacific Classic.
Rail Trip paid $11.20, $5.60, and $3.80 while carrying 118 pounds. Harris Farms' John Scott, who was out of action for nearly 2 1/2 years after fracturing a hind leg prior to this spring, returned $5.60 and $3.60. The exacta was worth $48.80. Kettle Corn, also third in the Hollywood Gold Cup last time out for trainer John Sadler, paid $2.60.
Take Control, finishing well after racing in last to the quarter pole, was followed home by Mobilized, Prayer for Relief , and defending San Diego winner Tres Borrachos.