09/06/2009 12:00AM

Rail Trip could make fitting story

Email
Benoit & Associates
Rail Trip, with Jose Valdivia up, wins the Hollywood Gold Cup in his most recent race, on July 11.

DEL MAR, Calif. - More than 30 years ago, Ron Ellis ran away and joined the racing circus.

"I got into racing so I could come to Del Mar every year," he said.

The days of baseball superstardom at Sepulveda Little League and Monroe High School in the San Fernando Valley were behind him. After getting his trainer's license, he scored his first victory here.

"Del Mar holds a special place in my heart," he said.

Ellis hopes to make more memories on Sunday. He will send out Rail Trip, the winner, in the Grade 1, $1 million Pacific Classic, premier race of the season at Del Mar. A victory in the race would make Rail Trip a leading contender for an Eclipse Award as top older horse, and would provide Ellis with the biggest and richest win of his career.

To prevail in the 1 1/4-mile race, though, Rail Trip will have to overcome 11 rivals and a lengthy layoff. He has not raced since his Gold Cup victory on July 11, but that was by design. Ellis, old-school in his methods, took a page from the Charlie Whittingham training manual and twice worked Rail Trip one mile in the fortnight preceding the race. He went faster (1:36) than Ellis desired in his final work last Sunday, "so I went light on him this week," Ellis said.

The Pacific Classic also drew such well-known names as Einstein, the Santa Anita Handicap winner, and Colonel John, who last year won both the Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes. The field is one of the best in years for this race, and anchors a sensational card that features two other graded stakes.

Both the Pacific Classic and the Grade 1 Pat O'Brien Stakes for sprinters offer automatic berths to Breeders' Cup races through the Win and You're In program. The O'Brien, the fourth race on the card, will showcase the brilliant sprinter Zensational, who is gunning for his third straight Grade 1 victory.

The Pacific Classic is the ninth race on an 11-race card that begins one hour earlier than usual, at 1 p.m. Pacific time. There is a guaranteed pool of $750,000 for the pick six, which begins with the Grade 2, $350,000 Del Mar Derby for 3-year-old turf horses. And after the races, there is a Ziggy Marley concert in the infield.

Einstein has returned to California after performing so well on a synthetic surface at Santa Anita in March.

"He loved the surface at Santa Anita, in an exceptional way," said his trainer, Helen Pitts, who regularly gallops Einstein, too.

Einstein, who will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, drew post 10, which Pitts liked.

"It looks like the speed is inside of me," she said. "He can sit off it. I like being on the outside. It allows Julien to see where he wants to place him."

Colonel John has not raced on the Del Mar main track since finishing second in his debut here two years ago, but he has always trained well here. He used this surface to prep for his victory in last year's Travers. And this summer, his works have been consistently strong. He will be making his second start since returning from a seven-month layoff.

Parading has returned to Southern California after finishing fifth as the favorite in the Hollywood Gold Cup on a day when he seemed more interested in the presence of the filly Life Is Sweet. Earlier this year, he was a runaway winner of the Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland on Polytrack, the same kind of surface at Del Mar. And there are no fillies in this race.

"He was all hot and bothered in the paddock at Hollywood," Robbie Medina, the assistant to Parading's trainer, Shug McGaughey, said here Friday morning. "He was more focused on the filly than the task at hand. We plan on being a little closer to the pace this time."

Tres Borrachos figures to set the early pace. He ran the best race of his life when sent aggressively to the lead in the Hollywood Gold Cup, in which he finished second.

Mast Track will be in the early mix. He comes off a narrow loss to Informed, another Pacific Classic entrant, in the San Diego Handicap, Del Mar's 1 1/16-mile prep for the Pacific Classic.

Another runner who should be prominent early is Misremembered, the Swaps Stakes winner. As the only 3-year-old in the field, Misremembered will carry 118 pounds, six fewer than everyone else.

Bob Baffert, the trainer of Misremembered, also sends out the late-running Richard's Kid, who turned in a sharp effort in his first start on a synthetic surface when just missing in last month's Cougar II Handicap here.

Global Hunter won the Eddie Read Stakes, this track's elite race for turf horses, the first weekend of the meet, then was third in the six-furlong Bing Crosby to Zensational. A win in the Pacific Classic would crown an ambitious, varied campaign this summer.

Awesome Gem, second in the Eddie Read, is racing in the Pacific Classic for the third straight year. He was second in this race in 2007.

Song of Navarone was a distant third in the San Diego in his last start.