09/28/2010 1:51PM

Rail Trip still has plenty to prove in Jockey Club Gold Cup

Tom Keyser
Rail Trip, with exercise rider Michelle Nevin up, trains over the dirt at Saratoga in August.

ELMONT, N.Y. – Though already established as one of the top older horses in training for two straight years, Rail Trip still has much to prove in Saturday’s $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

After racing exclusively on the synthetic surfaces at Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, and Del Mar – where he won 8 of 12 starts, including three graded stakes – Rail Trip makes his first start on dirt in the Gold Cup. Not only does Rail Trip have to run off a 12-week layoff, but he has to go 1 1/4 miles against arguably the best horse in training, Blame.

Samantha Siegel, who owns Rail Trip with her father, Mace, believes her Jay Em Ess Stable has a special horse in Rail Trip. But, like everyone else, she is anxious to see how Rail Trip fares Saturday and whether he’s worthy of moving on to the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6.

“He’s a very good horse, we thought that all along,” Samantha Siegel said. “We need to let everybody else see what we already know. I’m anxious to see what he can do.”

As is his new trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., who received the horse in July after Mace Siegel decided to move the horse from trainer Ron Ellis.

“He’s got to show up or he doesn’t belong going to the Breeders’ Cup,” Dutrow said.

Of the hurdles that lay before Rail Trip on Saturday, dirt seems the least of his connections’ concerns. Rail Trip has won five races at Hollywood Park, a synthetic surface that most closely resembles dirt, according to many observers. And Rail Trip has trained very well on dirt at Saratoga and Aqueduct.

“If he doesn’t like dirt, I’d be astounded,” Siegel said. “He’s trained beautifully on it, he does everything effortlessly. I don’t see any reason why he should not handle it. But that’s why they make them run around in a circle to prove it.”

Rail Trip has proved his talent from the time he debuted late in his 3-year-old year. His career delayed by an ankle chip that needed to come out, Rail Trip won his first start on Nov. 7, 2008, at Hollywood Park. Brought along judiciously by Ellis, Rail Trip would win his first five starts before getting beat 1 1/4 lengths in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap on May 9, 2009. He got beat three-quarters of a length in the Californian that June before breaking through with a three-length victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Despite a loss in the 2009 Pacific Classic, Rail Trip was on target for Breeders’ Cup Classic before being derailed by a foot injury. Last year’s Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita, a surface on which Rail Trip had won all three of his starts.

“It’s hard enough to get a horse good enough where you want to enter, let alone where you don’t have to go anywhere,” Siegel said. “Yeah, it sucked.”

Rail Trip began his 2010 season with wins in the Mervyn LeRoy and Californian at Hollywood Park in the spring. But a slow pace and a four-wide trip may have cost him in the Gold Cup, where he was beaten a half-length by Awesome Gem.

A few days later, Mace Siegel announced the horse would be doing to Dutrow.

“It was done, we need to stop going over that,” Samantha Siegel said. “It was something Mace wanted to do.”

The initial plan was for Rail Trip to run in the Woodward on Sept. 4 at Saratoga. But Dutrow said he needed to do some hind work on the gelding and a subsequent foot injury that arose in mid-August forced him to miss that race. The Jockey Club became the next target, and with a steady series of six-furlong breezes leading up to this race, Dutrow feels the horse is ready.

“He wasn’t right to run at Saratoga, you got to run them when they’re right,” Dutrow said. “I’m not worried about the three months. The horse has been breezing really good. He’s already run big going a mile and a quarter a couple of times, so we’ll have to see what happens.”

So what does Siegel hope to see from Rail Trip on Saturday?

“`Ideally I’d like to see him win where he didn’t have to extend himself,” Samantha Siegel said. “But if he gets beat a half-length by Blame, I wouldn’t complain about that either.”

Dutrow was hoping to breeze Rail Trip on Tuesday at Belmont, but canceled those plans after rain made for bad tracks at Belmont and Aqueduct. Dutrow was hoping to breeze Rail Trip at Aqueduct on Wednesday morning or perhaps between races at Belmont on Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, trainer Barclay Tagg said Tuesday that he would enter Dry Martini in the Gold Cup and evaluate the now eight-horse field before deciding whether to run. Dry Martini won the Suburban here in 2009, when the race was still 1 1/4 miles.

Haynesfield could play out as the main speed in a field that includes Fly Down, Hold Me Back, Mythical Power, and Tranquil Manner.

Mr. Fantasy to miss Vosburgh

Mr. Fantasy, who came off a 3 1/2-month layoff to win a second-level allowance race at Saratoga, will miss Saturday’s Grade 1 Vosburgh due to ankle issues, said Terry Finley, head of the West Point Thoroughbreds, which owns majority interest in the New York-bred colt.

Finley said that trainer Mike Hushion noticed something amiss prior to a planned breeze Sunday. Mr. Fantasy had ankle problems that forced his connections to stop on him during his 3-year-old season.

Finley said Mr. Fantasy would be evaluated by Dr Bill Baker at the Woodford Equine Clinic in Kentucky.

“Tough timing,” Finley said. “He was doing so well. We thought he’d be very competitive.”