05/09/2010 11:00PM

Don't expect Zenyatta to challenge Rail Trip


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It was a big weekend for Rail Trip. Not as big for Zenyatta. Rail Trip raced, and Zenyatta merely practiced. But even if they do not meet in a race this summer at Hollywood Park, the microscope is always on the top horses in California.

Rail Trip scored a solid comeback win Saturday, a 3 1/4-length victory in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap that was his seventh win from 10 starts. It was his first start since September, and a race he was expected to win at 1-2 odds.

"He had a pretty easy time of it," trainer Ron Ellis said. "It was the perfect stepping-stone race. You always think it will work out that way; you want to see him do it."

Rail Trip pressed slow fractions under Rafael Bejarano, took command into the lane, and won the 1 1/16-mile race with a 98 Beyer Speed Figure.

Zenyatta, meanwhile, has kept a low profile since her 16th consecutive win April 9 in the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. She worked a slow (52.40 seconds) half-mile April 27, and Sunday morning trainer John Shirreffs and jockey Mike Smith stretched her to six furlongs.

"We're not going to do much off a 52 half. That race here isn't until June 13," Shirreffs said, referring to the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap.

Zenyatta and Smith came onto the track Sunday at 9:20 a.m., and backtracked to the mile pole before turning around. They galloped through the clubhouse turn while Smith kept an eye on Zenyatta's workmate, El Vino.

El Vino broke off four lengths in front of Zenyatta, who quickly narrowed the gap while loping along. Smith did not ask Zenyatta for much.

"It was just a maintenance work, just cruising," he said.

Zenyatta easily collared her mate at the top of the lane. "I got about a half-length in front and just stayed there," Smith said. The time - 1:15.80 breezing - was purposely slow. "She came off a 52 half. You don't want to go from that to 1:12. It was a nice, easy three-quarters. Next time, it will be a little quicker. Then, a little quicker, then we'll be ready."

Zenyatta is dappled and happy, and Shirreffs is satisfied with the current short-term objective.

"We're going to run in the Vanity if the weights are good, then we're going to go look for another race," he said.

Shirreffs was asked if there was any chance Zenyatta would run in the Hollywood Gold Cup against males. Shirreffs responded, "No. We're not looking to climb the highest mountain possible. She's proven herself now."

No highest mountain yet, anyway. That will be at the end of the year for a second straight season. Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss have targeted the Breeders' Cup Classic as the year-end objective.

How Zenyatta gets there will be a race at a time, starting with a bid for a 17th consecutive victory on June 13.

The Vanity is run one day after the Grade 2 Californian on June 12, the next start for Rail Trip. A fresh horse into the second half of the year, Rail Trip benefits from the ability to train on his home track the remainder of the season. It helps, according to his trainer.

"I'm excited," Ellis said. "I can keep him up here all year and I don't have to train at Del Mar. Last summer at Del Mar his feet were bugging him."

Ellis and owners Mace and Samantha Siegel have planned out an ambitious three-race summer campaign for Rail Trip that culminates July 10 in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Rail Trip will be considered for the Pacific Classic on Aug. 28 at Del Mar.