Trainer Ron Ellis joked that he hoped last year's Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) winner would win wrapped up by jockey Rafael Bejarano, and he just about did while opening up a big lead in the stretch. The grand-looking bay cruised home comfortably in front of Sangaree, who looked like he might be a threat at the top of the lane but finished willingly to gain second at odds of 16-1.
"He was still learning how to run last year," Ellis said of Rail Trip. "He's a much more mature horse now, physically and mentally. He's filled out. He's a fresh horse and he's happy, but he's got to win the Gold Cup first to say he's better than last year."
In his first start since finishing third in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) at Del Mar Sept. 6, Rail Trip completed the 1 1/16-mile Mervyn Leroy in a time of 1:42.37 over the Cushion Track.
Bejarano rode the 5-year-old son of Jump Start for the first time, replacing Jose Valdivia Jr., who had been aboard the Jay Em Ess Stable's gelding in each of his prior nine starts but has shifted his tack to Delaware Park.
"Unbelievable, he just galloped," Bejarano said. "He surprised me a lot. I knew I had a lot of horse at the end. I thought I was going to win easy, but not this easy. I think this horse is going to be the best horse around."
Tres Borrachos, ridden by Victor Espinoza, was hustled to the front with a couple of quick cracks of the whip and set a steady pace (:24.45, :48.70, and 1:12.66) while opening up a two-length advantage on the backstretch over Rail Trip. The favorite advanced on the front-runner heading into the final turn and grabbed the lead as they made their way out of the bend. Dakota Phone, along the inside and Sangaree, rallying three wide, moved into contention as well.
But Rail Trip quickly took command at the top of the lane by 1 1/2 lengths. Sangaree, ridden by Martin Pedroza, swept past Tres Borrachos but was unable to mount a threat to the winner while a clear second by 1 1/4 lengths. Cigar Man, at 24-1, rallied late under Joe Talamo to nose the tiring Tres Borrachos for third.
After beginning his career with five consecutive victories in late 2008 and 2009, Rail Trip suffered his first loss in last year's Mervyn Leroy when he finished second to Ball Four. He ran second in the Californian Stakes (gr. II) as well before scoring a 9-1 upset in the Gold Cup by three lengths over Tres Borrachos. In his only subsequent start last year, he ran a better-than-it-looked third in the Pacific Classic but was given time to recover from sore feet rather than going on to the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I).
"In last year's race (Leroy), it was the first time he'd ever been behind horses and it schooled him really well," Ellis said. "He learned a lot from Ball Four. He's put it together each time after that."
Ellis took his time returning Rail Trip to action this year in hopes of having him in peak condition for the 2010 Breeders' Cup, which will take place at Churchill Downs.
Rail Trip improved his career mark to 7-2-1 in 10 races with earnings of $877,790 with the $90,000 winner's check.
Out of the Carson City mare Sweet Trip, Rail Trip was bred in Kentucky by Donarra Thoroughbreds.
The winner carried top weight of 121 pounds and paid $3, $2.60, and $2.10 as the 1-2 choice. Sangaree, returned to routing by trainer Bob Baffert after three consecutive sprint efforts, returned $8 and $4.60 and completed a $22.60 exacta. Cigar Man was $7.20 to show.