07/12/2009 11:00PM

Gold Cup winner owes debt to rival

Benoit & Associates
Jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. celebrates aboard Rail Trip after winning Saturday's Hollywood Gold Cup.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Less than 24 hours after Rail Trip's victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup, trainer Patrick Biancone congratulated winning trainer Ron Ellis in the Hollywood Park paddock before Sunday's first race.

Rail Trip won his first graded stakes in the Gold Cup, ending a two-race losing streak. During those losses, Rail Trip finished second to the Biancone-trained Ball Four in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap in May and outfinished Ball Four when second to Informed in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes on June 13.

Those races were fresh on Biancone's mind when he approached Ellis.

"Congratulations," Biancone said to Ellis, while shaking his hand. "You need to bring some carrots to Ball Four. He made your horse a man."

As Biancone walked away, Ellis could only grin - and agree.

"He's right," Ellis said, noting that Rail Trip "never got challenged at Santa Anita. He never learned how to run."

The battle-tested Rail Trip was a much different horse in the Gold Cup than his first two starts of the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting. He stalked pacesetter Tres Borrachos to early stretch and pulled away to win by three lengths.

In the Mervyn LeRoy, Rail Trip stalked Ball Four through a slow pace and could not catch his rival. In the Californian, Rail Trip stalked Ball Four, took the lead, but was caught by Informed.

The Gold Cup victory has Ellis and owners Mace and Samantha Siegel planning a campaign in the second half of 2009 designed to get Rail Trip to the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November. Before the Gold Cup, which was run over 1 1/4 miles, it could have been argued that Rail Trip was better at distances closer to a mile.

His Gold Cup win proved otherwise.

Rail Trip won his first five races, from November 2008 until April - a maiden race, three allowance races, and the Santana Mile Handicap at Santa Anita.

He will be back on Santa Anita's track for the Goodwood Stakes on Oct. 10, and is likely to start in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Sept. 6, provided he trains well there.

"If I take him down there and he doesn't like the track, I'll wait for the Goodwood," Ellis said. "They either love it or they hate it."

Ellis said he likes the timing of the Pacific Classic, which gives him a chance to rest Rail Trip for a few weeks before beginning a more serious training program.

"We're in a good position," he said.

Life Is Sweet solid in defeat

Life Is Sweet, the only female in the Gold Cup field, was beaten 7 3/4 lengths, but was the only runner in the 13-horse field to make up any substantial ground. Tres Borrachos and Rail Trip were one-two until the quarter pole.

Life Is Sweet rallied past eight rivals in the final furlong to finish third. She was 12th on the backstretch and three wide on the turn.

"She had everything going against her," trainer John Shirreffs said. "She had a big pack of horses in front of her and had to wait. She made a big run."

Owned by Marty and Pam Wygod, Life Is Sweet won three stakes at Santa Anita earlier this year, including the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap. She has lost her last two starts, but has not been disgraced. In May, Life Is Sweet was second to the undefeated champion and stablemate Zenyatta in the Grade 2 Milady Handicap.

Shirreffs had yet to confer with Marty Wygod about Life Is Sweet's next start, but did not rule out another tilt against males. There are several races at Del Mar that would fit Life Is Sweet - the $250,000 San Diego Handicap against males over 1 1/16 miles on Aug. 2, a rematch with Zenyatta in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes on Aug. 9, or the Pacific Classic.

"We'll have to approach each of them individually," he said. "We'll go down there and see how things are. It's hard to say."

Stauffer hospitalized

Vic Stauffer, the Hollywood Park track announcer and agent for leading rider Joel Rosario, was hospitalized on Saturday evening and did not call the races on Sunday.

Stauffer was thought to have suffered "a mini-stroke," track officials said, but a complete diagnosis had not been made. Stauffer underwent tests on Sunday and was released late Sunday afternoon. His place in the announcer's booth on Sunday was taken by Ed Burgart, who calls races at nearby Los Alamitos.

Stauffer was in contact with officials on Sunday afternoon, discussing race results. He told track officials that he hoped to return to race calling on Thursday, the next live racing day.

Rosario won the first three races on Sunday, including the Hollywood Juvenile on Necessary Evil, a filly who beat males.