07/28/2012 9:49PM

Del Mar: Rail Trip shows old form in San Diego Handicap victory

Benoit & Associates
Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. celebrates Rail Trip's victory in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Rail Trip may only have been the fifth choice in the Grade 2, $200,000 San Diego Handicap, but there could not have been a more popular winner on the card at Del Mar on Saturday, because his victory culminated a tumultuous, 24-month odyssey and left his connections positively beaming.

Taken away from trainer Ron Ellis following the 2010 Hollywood Gold Cup, Rail Trip returned to Ellis late last year and returned to his best form Saturday at the ripe old age of 7. After volleying for the lead with John Scott through soft early fractions, Rail Trip outdueled John Scott down the stretch to win by a half-length, with Kettle Corn another half-length back in third, a head in front of the late-running Take Control, whose kick was compromised by the pace.

Mobilized, Prayer for Relief, and Tres Borrachos completed the finish, in that order.

Rail Trip ($11.20), ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., completed 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack in 1:43.14, but the final time was impacted by the dawdling pace of 1:14.14 for the first six furlongs.

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The win earned Rail Trip a fees-paid berth into the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile through the Win and You’re In program, and it likely will mean he gets a chance in next month’s Pacific Classic, a race in which he finished third in 2009 when just a mere pup of 4.

“It was great, awesome,” Ellis, smiling widely, said in the winner’s circle.

Rail Trip is now owned solely by Samantha Siegel following the death last year of her father, Mace, whose decision it was to remove Rail Trip from Ellis’s care.

“It was funny circumstances, but that’s a couple of years in the past, and we’re glad to have him back,” Ellis said. “When Samantha called me in December to say he was coming back, that was an awesome Christmas present.”

A gelding, Rail Trip has now won nine times in 20 starts. The San Diego ended an eight-race losing streak that began with the 2010 Gold Cup. The San Diego had been Ellis’s target for months. It was Rail Trip’s third race for Ellis this time around, following a pair of races at Betfair Hollywood Park.

“We knew as a 7-year-old he’d probably take a little time, so we thought it was realistic targeting this race,” Ellis said.

“Ron’s done a great job,” an emotional Siegel said in the winner’s circle. “It’s wonderful to have him back.”

Siegel said she was going to buy Rail Trip a bag of peppermints Saturday night and Sunday morning would feed him “till he doesn’t want any more.”