06/11/2010 12:00AM

High expectations for Rail Trip


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For the second consecutive year, Rail Trip is the favorite for the Grade 2, $150,000 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park on Saturday.

Last year, he was the 2-1 favorite but could only finish second. This year, he will be an even stronger favorite and is expected to win and retain his position as the leader of California's handicap division.

It was a goal that owners Mace and Samantha Siegel and trainer Ron Ellis set out to accomplish this year, and one that looks on course after Rail Trip's impressive comeback last month in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap.

Rail Trip won 4 of 7 starts last year, including a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He later finished second in the Pacific Classic but missed the Breeders' Cup Classic because of a bruised foot.

Rail Trip's 2010 campaign has been geared toward a trip to the BC Classic at Churchill Downs in November, and the three graded stakes around two turns at Hollywood Park this spring and summer are vital to keep the 5-year-old gelding moving toward that goal. Ellis has the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 10 as a summertime goal for Rail Trip.

"He's better now," Ellis said. "Now, he's fresh. Last year, he had been running for half the year."

Rail Trip, a 5-year-old gelding, has changed his running style in recent starts. Early in his career, he disputed or set the pace. In three starts since a second in the 2009 Californian, Rail Trip has stalked the pace and then moved toward the leaders in the final three furlongs. Such a style of racing worked in the Gold Cup and the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap here on May 8, his first start of 2010.

"It gives the jockey a lot of options," Ellis said. "Last year, he was in the learning process, and this year, he has it down."

In the Mervyn LeRoy over 1 1/16 miles, Rail Trip was second until early stretch and drew off to win by 3 1/4 lengths as the 1-2 favorite.

"It was a perfect race for him, because he wasn't all out and he seemed to win with ease," Ellis said. "He came out of it really well."

The Californian is run over 1 1/8 miles and has drawn a field of eight, two of whom are expected to be on the lead -- One Track Mind and Tres Borrachos.

Tres Borrachos won the 2008 Swaps Stakes here and was second in the 2009 Gold Cup. He is winless in his last eight starts and was fourth in the Mervyn LeRoy after setting the early pace.

One Track Mind is starting in the most prestigious race, and the longest, of his 17-race career in the Californian. A 5-year-old gelding trained by David Bernstein, One Track Mind won an optional claimer over 1 1/16 miles by a nose on May 21.

The presence of fellow front-runner Tres Borrachos scares Bernstein, who said the Californian is still worth a try.

"Sadly, it looks like there is a lot of speed, and if they all go, we're cooked," Bernstein said. "We've always thought he'd run a long way, but the pace is everything. I don't know if he'll ever lay off the pace. Since he started routing, he's gone to the lead."

Bernstein was enthused by One Track Mind's half-mile workout in 47.60 seconds at Hollywood Park last Saturday under jockey Tyler Baze, who has the mount in the Californian.

"He ran the best race of his life last time," Bernstein said. "Tyler worked him and said he is some kind of horse right now. We have to hope he doesn't regress. Sometimes they get good and keep going."

The Californian field includes three other runners from the LeRoy -- Sangaree and Cigar Man, who were second and third, and sixth-place finisher Slew's Tiznow. Aitcho and Spurrier will be longshots, seeking their first stakes win.