05/06/2010 11:00PM

Rail Trip back as heavy favorite

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Rail Trip will be favored to reclaim leadership of the West Coast handicap division when he returns from an eight-month layoff Saturday at Hollywood Park.

"I'm hoping he wins wrapped up," trainer Ron Ellis said.

Considering the sketchy competition in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at 1 1/16 miles, an easy comeback victory would not be a surprise.

Seven entered; the only meaningful stakes winner besides the favorite is Tres Borrachos. Other entrants include graded stakes-placed Dakota Phone, track-record holder Slew's Tiznow, and longshots Cigar Man, Sangaree, and Art Currency.

Rail Trip stands out. Mace and Samantha Siegel own Rail Trip, a

5-year-old gelding whose six wins from nine starts include the Hollywood Gold Cup last summer. He has trained in outstanding fashion, his tactical speed ensures a good trip, and he runs well fresh.

"But it's still a layoff," Ellis said. "For me, this is the most important race."

While the purse is only $150,000, it sets up Rail Trip for a three-race campaign that continues with the Grade 2 Californian on June 12 and the Gold Cup on July 10.

By the time Rail Trip won the Gold Cup last summer, he had run quite a few times, Ellis said. Rail Trip squeezed in one more start, a better-than-looked third in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Plans for the Breeders' Cup were later scrapped.

After earning $787,780 in nine starts from November 2008 through September 2009, Rail Trip was due for a break.

"The plan was to have him for the second half of the year," Ellis said, referring to 2010.

Rafael Bejarano is the new rider for Rail Trip, whose only pace rival is horse-for-course Tres Borrachos. Winner of the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes in 2008 and runner-up in the 2009 Gold Cup, Tres Borrachos will set the pace but enters with dubious form.

If Tres Borrachos is suspect, then closer Dakota Phone could complete the exacta. After finishing third in the Santa Anita Handicap to now-sidelined Misremembered, Dakota Phone shipped to Arkansas for the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. He pressed the pace and finished last.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer blamed strategy.

"There was no speed in the race, and I tried to run him closer than what he is used to doing," he said. "I changed his style, and it did not work out."

Tyler Baze rides Dakota Phone, who has won 4 of 25.