06/13/2010 11:00PM

Rail Trip solidifies his status

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - There was little pressure when Rail Trip started as a 9-1 outsider in the 2009 Hollywood Gold Cup last July. At the time, he was coming off two losses in major stakes, leaving doubts about whether he could rise to the highest level.

The opposite scenario will be in place for this year's running on July 10. Rail Trip will be the heavy favorite in the Gold Cup while on a two-race winning streak, following a comprehensive win in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes last Saturday.

"The script has been followed exactly the way it's supposed to go," trainer Ron Ellis said.

Rail Trip was second in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy and Californian last year but has won those races this year. In the Californian on Saturday, Rail Trip stalked pacesetter One Track Mind for the first six furlongs, took the lead in early stretch, and won by 2 3/4 lengths even though jockey Rafael Bejarano eased up on Rail Trip in the final furlong.

The wins have made Rail Trip the leader of the California older male division at the halfway point of the year. What has Ellis and owners Mace and Samantha Siegel more enthused is the style that Rail Trip has used. He is no longer a horse that needs the lead and has shown the ability to stalk effectively, a style that the 5-year-old must have to win at the Gold Cup distance of 1 1/4 miles.

Rail Trip has won 8 of 11 starts and $967,790. Rail Trip won his first five starts in late 2008 and early 2009 but did not always gain experience from those races, Ellis said.

"Some of the races were so easy that he didn't learn a lot at times," Ellis said. "In a couple of those allowance races, I hoped there would be some speed and there wasn't. When he learned something new, he gained from it."

The Gold Cup is as far as Ellis has planned this year. There is a strong chance that Rail Trip will start in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 28, though the trainer said a trip out of state is possible. During the summer, Rail Trip will remain at Hollywood Park and would ship to Del Mar only for a race.

"I don't know what we'll do," Ellis said. "I'll see how he comes out of it. He'll train here. He does well here. I have no plans after the Gold Cup. We want to be near Zenyatta. We have to keep our enemies close."

Ellis was smiling broadly as he said that, having become one of Zenyatta's thousands of fans in the last two years. Still, the prospect of a matchup between the two sometime this year, perhaps in Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in November, is intriguing.