05/10/2009 11:00PM

Ball Four further blurs picture

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Benoit & Associates
Ball Four, under Joe Talamo, upsets Sunday's Mervyn LeRoy at 16-1.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - More than four months into the year, there is no clarity in the older horse division in California.

The results of Saturday's Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap added to the mess when Ball Four, an 8-year-old gelding, won the third stakes of his career, upsetting the heavily favored and previously unbeaten Rail Trip. Ball Four ($34) led throughout the 1 1/16 miles under Joe Talamo and won by 1 1/4 lengths over Rail Trip, who was making his graded stakes debut and his sixth career start.

Only Cowboy Cal has won two stakes for older horses around two turns on the main track this year in California - the San Pasqual and Strub stakes - and that was back in January and February. Since then, Magnum (San Antonio Handicap), Einstein (Santa Anita Handicap), Stream Cat (Tokyo City Handicap), and Ball Four have won such stakes.

Both Ball Four and Rail Trip are expected to return in the $250,000 Californian Stakes on June 13, an important prep for the $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 11.

The loss by Rail Trip left trainer Ron Ellis disappointed, but not stunned. He knew that Rail Trip would have to catch the front-running Ball Four.

"I probably underestimated him a little bit," Ellis said.

Rail Trip got within a half-length of Ball Four on the turn, but could not draw any closer under jockey Jose Valdivia Jr.

"I thought we had him anytime we wanted on the turn," Ellis said. "They were finishing and they were rolling home."

Ellis said that Rail Trip could become a tougher horse with the loss. It was the first time in his career that he did not have a clear lead in early stretch.

"It was his first time in a dog fight," Ellis said.

Ball Four, bought privately earlier this year by Flying Zee Stable, has won three graded stakes in his career. He was trained by current trainer Patrick Biancone earlier in his career, and by Todd Pletcher and Derek Galvin for four starts in 2008 when Biancone was suspended for a medication violation.

The Mervyn LeRoy was Ball Four's first start since a ninth-place finish behind Cowboy Cal in the San Pasqual Handicap in January, and his first win since the Fayette Stakes at Keeneland last fall.

"He's a lovely old horse," Biancone said. "He was in good condition when he came over from Pletcher. When you space his races, he runs well fresh."

Santa Teresita headed to New York

Santa Teresita, the winner of the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita in February, will attempt to win her second Grade 1 of 2009 in the $300,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap over 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park on June 13, trainer Eric Guillot said.

Santa Teresita has been second in her last two starts - the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in March and the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne on April 18.

Guillot said he has no interest in starting Santa Teresita in the $150,000 Milady Handicap at Hollywood Park on May 23, a race expected to feature 2008 champion older female Zenyatta.

"Run against that freak?" he said. "I was born at night, but it wasn't last night."

Believe in Hope targets Del Mar

Believe in Hope, a promising 2-year-old of 2008, has returned to Ellis's stable after being given four months off because of an illness.

Believe in Hope was third in the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita last fall and was pre-entered in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile before he was taken out of the race because of an illness.

Through the fall, Ellis said he was not pleased with Believe in Hope's condition, and eventually sent the horse to a local farm.

"At the farm, they said he turned the corner a month ago and gained weight," Ellis said.

Ellis said that Believe In Hope could return to racing by the end of the summer, probably at Del Mar.

Soul City Slew tops L.A. probables

There are two $100,000 races at Hollywood Park this weekend - the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap over six furlongs and the Gallant Man Handicap over 1 5/8 miles on the main track.

The Los Angeles Handicap is led by Soul City Slew, the winner of the Grade 2 Potrero Grande Handicap at Santa Anita last month. Other probable starters are Dehere Again, Guns on the Table, Mutak Gold, Northern Soldier, Paul's Hope, Red Arrow, and Siren Lure.

The Gallant Man Handicap will be Stream Cat's first start since the Tokyo City Handicap. He will face Church Service, Isipingo, Our Partner, and Power Blitz. Church Service was pulled up in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita on April 19, but has had three subsequent workouts, including five furlongs in 1:01.40 on Sunday.

Aguirre healthy, looks to rebuild

Trainer Paul Aguirre is back at his Hollywood Park stable after missing time earlier this year because of an appendectomy. Aguirre, 52, said he was hospitalized when his appendix burst, and spent further time at home recovering.

"I feel great, but it took a long time to get better," he said.

Aguirre, who won the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes with Texcess in 2004, said his stable is low on numbers, and that he hopes it will grow in coming months.

"I have a few 2-year-olds," he said. "I'm open. I have a little money to claim. It's time to rebuild."

Bell fined for medication violation

Trainer Ray Bell has been fined $2,500 after one of his starters at Hollywood Park last July tested in excess of the permitted level of procaine, a local anesthetic, Hollywood Park stewards announced in a ruling.

The overage was found in a post-race test taken from Zanda Blue, the winner of a $50,000 maiden claiming race.