10/28/2010 3:57PM

Lady Railrider back to defend Cal Cup Matron title


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Lady Railrider has come a long way since she won her debut in a $2,000 race at Les Bois, a minor racetrack in Idaho, in June 2007.

Three years and 20 starts later, Lady Railrider has emerged as a leading older female California-bred and is the likely favorite to score a repeat win Saturday in the $100,000 Cal Cup Matron at 1 1/16 miles.

Steve Specht trains Lady Railrider, a 5-year-old mare, for owner-breeders Mr. and Mrs. Larry Williams. Despite problematic feet, Lady Railrider has won seven races and $413,180 from 20 starts, including a 2009 Matron victory when the Oak Tree meet was held at Santa Anita.

The issue Saturday at Hollywood is whether Lady Railrider is as good as she was last year, when she won the Matron first start back from a five-month layoff. Lady Railrider has made two starts this year, finishing third in a turf stakes at Santa Rosa and second in an allowance at Golden Gate in her most recent start Sept. 23.

Seven fillies and mares entered the Matron from an original list of 38 nominees. The field includes sprinter-turned-router Ultra Blend, stakes-placed turf specialist Catsalot, front-running comebacker Camille C, and closers Tiz Smoke Tiz Fire, Ruffled Feathers, and Warren’s Jitterbug.

Lady Railrider and jockey Frank Alvarado figure to get a good trip Saturday positioned second behind front-runner Camille C, winner of the $150,000 Melair Stakes for statebred 3-year-old fillies at Hollywood in April. Camille C has not raced since July, and her sketchy work pattern suggests another front-running win would be a surprise.

The main threat to Lady Railrider is Art Sherman-trained Ultra Blend, who is 5 for 15 but has raced at a mile or longer only three times.

“She was doing OK sprinting, but in Southern California I think it’s a little easier to go two turns than it is to sprint,” Sherman said.

Ultra Blend finished second in her first route race in summer 2009, and Sherman stretched her out again in summer 2010 in the one-mile Solana Beach Handicap on the Del Mar turf. Ultra Blend made the lead late but was collared by closer Bran Jammas.

Jockey Joel Rosario told Sherman, “She never saw that other horse coming.” Ultra Blend subsequently finished third behind Lady Railrider at Golden Gate while compromised by traffic Sept. 23.

“She got in a spot she couldn’t get out, steadied a couple of times, then she just went even the last part,” Sherman said.

Sherman said he believes seven furlongs is her best distance, but seven-furlong races for her division are rarely run. Rosario rides Ultra Blend, who has won five races and $257,246 from 15 starts.

Catsalot looms the come-from-behind upsetter, switching to the main track after her rally fell short again in an allowance on turf.

“She needs a long stretch,” Powell said, noting the stretch is longer on the main track than on turf. “It takes her a long time to get going.”

Warren’s Jitterbug was a dead-heat winner of Sandy Blue Handicap at a mile on turf in August. She has proven form on synthetic and will be rolling late.

The Matron is race 5 on the 10-race card and is the first leg of the pick six.