07/14/2010 6:28PM

Rail Trip perfect with new running style


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Rail Trip was an 8-1 outsider in the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup, a race he won by three lengths in a performance widely considered one of the finest of his career.

Of course, this season he has run races that have been equally as dazzling, with two wins in as many starts in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on May 8 and the Grade 2 Californian Stakes on June 12.

Rail Trip was not fully extended in those races, but he faces a tougher test from six rivals in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup over 1 1/4 miles at Hollywood Park on Saturday. In this year’s Gold Cup, he will be heavily favored by bettors and on the minds of the other riders in the race.

It’s quite a change from last year, when he was dismissed in the Gold Cup.

“I think a lot of people gave up on him,” trainer Ron Ellis said.

The poise of a 5-year-old Rail Trip in 2010 is different than the 2009 version, who was prone to racing near the front or on the lead. This year, Ellis has been delighted by the patience the gelding has shown in stalking leaders under jockey Rafael Bejarano before pouncing in early stretch.

The same scenario could develop in the Gold Cup, the eighth race on a 10-race program that beings at 1 p.m. Rail Trip’s style should be aided by the presence of two speed-oriented runners – Compari, a four-time stakes winner, and Tres Borrachos, who was second to Rail Trip in the 2009 Gold Cup.

“It should be pretty easy,” Ellis said of Rail Trip’s stalking trip.

Compari was seventh in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on turf here May 31, never making the lead from an outside post. The loss ended a six-race winning streak. For the Gold Cup, Compari breaks from post 2 and will be urged from the break by jockey Mike Smith.

“I got a good draw,” trainer Marty Jones said. “If he gets a clean break, he should be okay. He’s been a little flat-footed at the start in his last few starts.”

What may be a bigger threat to Rail Trip’s hold on the California older male division than the front-runners is the presence in the Gold Cup of Richard’s Kid, who won the 2009 Pacific Classic beating Rail Trip, who was third. Richard’s Kid won the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita in February.

The Gold Cup will be Richard’s Kid’s first start since a seventh-place finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 27. Richard’s Kid finished 2 1/2 lengths behind upset winner Gloria de Campeao after chasing a slow pace.

Trainer Bob Baffert has his eye on a defense of the Pacific Classic on Aug. 28 but said Richard’s Kid is capable of a “really good showing” in the Gold Cup.

“He’ll be a little rusty,” Baffert said. “It should set him up for Del Mar. A race will do him well.”

Richard’s Kid is a closer and will be joined at the back of the field by Awesome Gem, who was third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2007. A 7-year-old gelding, Awesome Gem is the veteran in the Gold Cup field, making his 36th start.

Awesome Gem was second in the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap in Texas on May 31, on a warm day.

“In Texas, it was so hot and I think that got to him,” trainer Craig Dollase said. “I thought it was an incredible run, considering the circumstances.”

Rail Trip carries top weight of 123 pounds in the Gold Cup, a handicap. Richard’s Kid is next at 121 pounds, with Tres Borrachos and Cigar Man, who was third in the Mervyn LeRoy, on the low end at 113 pounds. Tap It Light, winner of the Grade 3 Tokyo City Handicap over 1 1/2 miles at Santa Anita, will carry 114 and could be just behind the early leaders.

For now, the two-pound difference between Rail Trip and Richard’s Kid angers Ellis.

“He beat us at equal weights,” Ellis said of the 2009 Pacific Classic in which Rail Trip was third.

The same race could be Rail Trip’s schedule next month. So far this year, Ellis and owners Mace and Samantha Siegel have watched Rail Trip thrive on a schedule mapped out over the winter.

“I just planned on these three races and then I’ll re-evaluate where we’re at,” Ellis said.

After Saturday, Ellis may be evaluating the campaign of a horse with a perfect record this year.