08/21/2012 12:50PM

Del Mar: Rail Trip, at 7, in the hunt for Pacific Classic’s $1 million

Benoit & Associates
Rail Trip (center), with jockey Jose Valdivia Jr., wins the San Diego Handicap, earning a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

DEL MAR, Calif. – At 7, Rail Trip is good enough to have earned a trip to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in November. He secured an automatic berth for the Dirt Mile with a win in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar on July 28.

His race plans for that autumn day may be subject to change.

Sunday, Rail Trip starts in the $1 million Pacific Classic, three years after he finished third in the race as the favorite. A win would force owner Samantha Siegel and trainer Ron Ellis to reevaluate plans for the autumn. The Breeders’ Cup Classic would become the new goal.

“We’re getting him back in shape,” Ellis said. “Hopefully, he’s ready to make that leap.”

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Getting Rail Trip to the Pacific Classic and planning a start in the Breeders’ Cup would have seemed outlandish last fall. He was at the end of an unsuccessful campaign in New York, and seemed past his prime.

The winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup in 2009, Rail Trip was beaten a length by Richard’s Kid in the 2009 Pacific Classic. The following year, he was a troubled second in the Hollywood Gold Cup as the 2-5 favorite.

Following that race, Siegel’s late father, Mace, opted to send Rail Trip to New York trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. Rail Trip was winless in five starts in late 2010 and early 2011 while with Dutrow.

Mace Siegel died in 2011. After Rail Trip unseated his rider in a minor stakes at Aqueduct last November, Samantha Siegel wanted the gelding back in California.

“Nothing really clicked back there,” Samantha Siegel said. “When he got back here, he started looking like his old self.”

Rail Trip was back in Ellis’s stable by Christmas, and was in serious training by the spring. Along the way, Ellis mapped a plan focusing on Del Mar’s stakes this summer.

After a fourth in the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap for sprinters at Betfair Hollywood Park on May 28 and a close second in an optional claimer there on June 28, Rail Trip rebounded in the San Diego over 1 1/16 miles. He raced near the lead throughout, reached the front in early stretch and won by a half-length over John Scott, a candidate for the Pacific Classic.

“He came out of the race great,” Ellis said. “I see a more confident horse than his last race. He didn’t give up and that was what I was proud of.”

The San Diego ended an eight-race losing streak for Rail Trip, dating back to the Grade 2 Californian Stakes in June 2010. Jose Valdivia Jr. was his jockey then and has ridden Rail Trip this year. He has the mount in the Pacific Classic, seeking his first seven-figure win since Ruler On Ice won the 2011 Belmont Stakes.

For Ellis, naturally guarded by nature, the win was encouraging, but he insists he needs to see more from the Jump Start gelding to be convinced he’s at his best.

“He was a Grade 1 horse when he left and now he’s a Grade 2 horse,” Ellis said. “It’s a process.”

The Pacific Classic will be a tough race for Rail Trip to win.

The field is led by Hollywood Gold Cup winner Game On Dude and Richard’s Kid, the winner of the 2009 and 2010 Pacific Classic. Richard’s Kid won the Grade 3 Cougar II Handicap here in late July.

“We could run a decent third and he’d be building back to his form,” Ellis said.

With his running style of racing near the front, Rail Trip may be close to the speedy Game On Dude for the first half of the race. Ellis and Siegel are hopeful he is competitive enough to offer a threat in the stretch.

A winner of 9 of 20 starts and $1,253,790, Rail Trip may need a career-best effort. Even getting back to this level – a million-dollar race – is gratifying, Siegel said.

“This is the crown jewel of Del Mar,” she said. “We don’t run in many million-dollar races.”

Nelson Sepulveda More than 1 year ago
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Most of these California horses don't like NY. It's like the horse knows where they are and it's puts them on the defense. They just get stubborn. IMO
freecharm More than 1 year ago
Most California T-bred horses race over mile tracks, not the two 9f tracks plus that behemoth Belmont that the NY-trained ones know. That's the only difference. If they're ever on the defensive, it's only because the weather back East is, well, bad. :)
Robert McGonigal More than 1 year ago
Best of luck to Ron Ellis who always carries himself with grace and class and is friendly to the regular guy at the track.
wdaylami More than 1 year ago
A disasterous decision by Old Mace (R.I.P.) the horse was unbeatable at Hollywood Park - so he sent him to NY for a pointless 18 month adventure.
Mark Abramson More than 1 year ago
I want Joe Talamo to win the Pacific Classic!
Kyri Freeman More than 1 year ago
The whole story of Rail Trip's trainer adventures shows that, in racing as elsewhere in life, every once in a while there is a happy ending. And he's a great argument for gelding colts -- instead of being rushed off to breed, he is still around and competitive in top races at 7. So what if he's not the second coming of Man O'War -- he is a fun horse to follow and a great story. This Pacific Classic as a whole looks likely to showcase horses with longevity like RT, Game On Dude and Richard's Kid -- even though admittedly I'm hoping 3YO Dullahan can get back in form on the synthetic surface.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Colts and horses are gelded as a last resort to potentially correct behavioral problems that would make them unfit to race. It is unnatural and never desirable.
Bwell More than 1 year ago
Anyone who bets Dullahan next Sunday is going to hemorrhage money.
D More than 1 year ago
All this does is show you how bad not just the older division is in racing but racing in general. 15-20 years ago a 7 year old like Rail Trip ( avg horse at best in my opinion ) would be 20-1 in the morning line and handicappers would be saying "no way do am I betting this old nag"
Jordan More than 1 year ago
Don't hate the player, hate the game. At least Rail Trip is out there running at age 7. Same thing for Richard's Kid; he's 7 and he's not even a gelding. Acclamation and Jeranimo are 6 year olds, have won a grade 1 race this year, and are not geldings. Yet, instead of celebrating that, some folks want to discuss the garbage fields they beat, particularly when talking about California horses. I hope the point you were trying to make is that the game might be weaker not because of anything to do with a horse like Rail trip but because so many of the top 2 and 3 year olds are retired before they could ever race against a horse like Rail Trip. But again, that's not Rail Trip's fault.
Grass Is Greener More than 1 year ago
Times change and people adapt. It's been like in modern civilization for centuries. Do you go through life complaining about not being able to buy a chicken for $3 or a gallon of gas for $1 too?
Oliver Brown More than 1 year ago
don't be a Bitter Old Betty. It is great that Rail Trip is still racing at this level. Especially at at time when any horse who shows a scintilla of brilliance/awesome talent (Bodemesiter, I'll Have Another, etc.) promptly retires. Enjoy the race and save your complaints about actual bad news (there is plenty of that surrounding the game).
Big Jeff More than 1 year ago
Guess we all know what the "D" stands for.