After coming up short in two previous prep races for the $700,000 TVG/Betfair Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) (VIDEO), Rail Trip put it all together when he rolled to a three-length victory July 12 at the Inglewood track.
Ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., the victory was sweet vindication for trainer Ron Ellis and owner Jay Em Ess Stable. Rail Trip, who had been favored in all seven of his previous races, was given little regard at the Gold Cup distance of 1 1/4 miles and was sent off at juicy odds of 9-1. The bay gelding scored his first graded stakes win while setting a Cushion Track record of 2:00.75.
"We didn't know if he could go a mile and a quarter," Ellis said. "There were doubts that crept into my mind, but we wanted to know which Breeders' Cup race to shoot for, the mile or the mile and a quarter (Classic). And now we know."
Rail Trip took the lead from the pacesetter Tres Borrachos at the top of the lane and powered home without a threat from any of the closers in the 13-horse field. Surprising Tres Borrachos, ridden by Joe Talamo, gave a strong accounting to finish second by 4 3/4 lengths over the late-running filly Life Is Sweet. Last year's Gold Cup winner, Mast Track, finished fourth.
The favorite, Parading, who rated in mid-pack into the final turn, rallied briefly but lacked any punch in the lane and finished fifth.
Rail Trip was all the rage in Southern California after five straight victories to begin his career and was the buzz horse for the Gold Cup earlier in the season. But after being outfinished in second-place showings as the favorite in the 1 1/16-mile Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) and the 1 1/8-mile Californian (gr. II), the bandwagon emptied for the 4-year-old son of Jump Start .
"From 2-to-5 to 10-to-1," said Samantha Siegel, who co-owns Rail Trip with her father, Mace. "How soon they forget. In two races, they all just jumped ship."
Ellis said the goal had been the Gold Cup all along, not the prep races, and the key was getting Rail Trip to relax.
"Samantha was very encouraging," he said. "She really wanted to take a shot at a mile and a quarter."
Tres Borrachos sped to the lead and opened up by two lengths on the clubhouse turn, maintaining a clear advantage over Rail Trip through solid quarter-mile splits of :23.72, :47.94, and 1:11.91. Rail Trip, with Magnum on the outside and Mast Track toward the rail, began to close in, but Rail Trip left them behind, tackling Tres Borrachos as they made their way into the stretch after a mile was completed in 1:35.99.
Rail Trip took the lead at the head of the lane and gradually pulled away. By the eighth pole, he was clearly in control, finishing under steady handling as Tres Borrachos held second.
"I couldn't have asked for a better trip," Valdivia said. "He started making a run going into the far turn and I felt I was loaded. Before I got to the quarter pole I thought I was going to break the race open.
"Everyone was talking about the next superstar (after Rail Trip won five in a row)," the jockey added. "He showed up when it counted most. I'm in heaven."
Talamo, aboard Tres Borrachos, said, "Rail Trip had just a little bit more horse than us. I looked back at the wire and I was surprised that he was so far in front of the rest of the field."
Life Is Sweet, who rallied from 11th in the stretch for Garrett Gomez, swung wide off the turn and finished best of the rest for third. She was three-quarters of a length in front of Mast Track.
Parading, the 119-pound highweight, was followed by Californian winner Informed, Magnum, Global Hunter, Dakota Phone, Bullsbay, Song of Navarone, Big Booster, and Autism Awareness.
Desormeaux said he couldn't get Parading out of gallop mode.
"He was very happy on the race rack. Usually, happy horse are fast horses, but he was happy to just keep galloping along."
Improving his career mark to 6-2-0 in eight starts, Rail Trip earned $420,000 for his first win since taking the Santana Mile April 4 at Santa Anita. His purse earnings now total $667,790. All of his races have been over synthetic tracks.
Bred in Kentucky by Donarra Thoroughbreds, Rail Trip is out of Sweet Trip, by Carson City. He sold for $200,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky in July 2006.
Sent off as the fifth choice, Rail Trip carried 116 pounds and paid $21.40, $10.60, and $6.20, keying a $2 exacta worth $417.60. Tres Borrachos, who won the Swaps Stakes (gr. II) last year at Hollywood for trainer Beau Greely, returned $21.60 and $11.80 as a 23-1 outsider. The grade I winner Life Is Sweet was $4 to show as the second choice.