Undefeated Rail Trip puts his five-race winning streak on the line against five rivals in the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II) at Hollywood Park on May 9.
Jay Em Ess Stable's lightly-raced 4-year-old son of Jump Start makes his graded stakes debut in the Mervyn LeRoy for trainer Ron Ellis. Others entered in the 1 1/16-mile Cushion Track event include Dakota Phone, who nearly nabbed Rail Trip in the Santana Mile Handicap at Santa Anita one month ago, and the 8-year-old multiple graded winner Ball Four.
But most of the money figures to be on the Kentucky-bred Rail Trip, who won the the April 4 Santana Mile, his first stakes race, by a measured nose -- if there can be such a thing. The bay gelding, sent off at odds of 1-5, opened a commanding lead over his rivals mid-stretch and jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. never urged him even though Dakota Phone was closing fast at the wire. Valdivia, who has been aboard Rail Trip in all of his races, acknowledged afterward that the result was a little closer than he had anticipated.
Rail Trip has been favored in all of his starts since debuting last November and has been odds-on in his last four while climbing up the condition ladder. Out of the Carson City mare Sweet Trip, he has displayed sharp speed in all of his races while being headed only once. He won his previous four races before the Santana by a combined margin of more than 14 lengths.
The favorite, who is 2-for-2 on the Hollywood main track, will break from post 4 with Valdivia while pulling high weight of 119 pounds.
Dakota Phone, who blew out four furlongs in :48 on the Cushion Track May 6 for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, enjoys a five-pound switch in the weights for his rematch with Rail Trip. The stakes-winning 4-year-old Zavata gelding ran second to Nownownow in the San Fernando Stakes (gr. II) earlier in the Santa Anita meet.
Co-owned by Hollendorfer and Halo Farms, Dakota Phone has won four of 16 starts and earned $257,010. He'll break from the rail with Rafael Bejarano aboard.
Flying Zee Stable's Ball Four is one of two graded stakes winners in the field. But the veteran Grand Slam gelding has been on the sidelines since finishing last of nine in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) Jan. 10.
Trained by Patrick Biancone, Ball Four has won six of 24 starts and $621,500. His last victory came in Keeneland's Fayette Stakes (gr. III) on Polytrack last October.
The other graded winner in the field, Unusual Suspect, has been out of action since a third-place showing in the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita Jan. 24. Trained by Barry Abrams, all but one of Unusual Suspect's seven victories have come on the turf, the surface over which he has made 24 of his 33 lifetime starts.
Winner of the Silveyville on Golden Gate Field's Tapeta Dec. 26, the the 5-year-old son of Unusual Heat leads the field in earnings with $622,592.
Aggie Engineer, who ran third to Rail Trip in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race at Hollywood Dec. 20, should keep the pace honest while making his stakes debut. The 4-year-old son of E Dubai won his first two-turn effort at one mile last time out for trainer Paddy Gallagher, leading an allowance field all the way to score by 1 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita.
Fire Wood shortens up for Mike Mitchell after splitting the field in the Tokyo City Cup Handicap (gr. III) at 1 1/2 miles in his last try.
The Mervyn LeRoy is the first major local stakes test for older handicap horses leading up to the $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) at 10 furlongs on July 11. The next race in the series is the $250,000 Californian at 1 1/8 miles on June 13.
$150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 4:30 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Dakota Phone (KY), 117, Rafael Bejarano
2. Fire Wood (KY), 113, Tyler Baze
3. Ball Four (KY), 118, Joseph Talamo
4. Rail Trip (KY), 119, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
5. Unusual Suspect (CA), 113, Joel Rosario
6. Aggie Engineer (KY), 113, Alex O. Solis