08/02/2011 4:43PM

Saratoga: Dutrow sees Rail Trip 'in a zone' for Whitney

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rail Trip had some foot trouble when he first arrived in Richard Dutrow Jr.'s barn.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Rail Trip will be the last horse to arrive on the grounds for Saturday’s $750,000 Whitney Handicap but trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. is confident he can be the first across the finish line in the Grade 1 event.

Rail Trip has pretty much been out of sight and out of mind of late, with Dutrow choosing to prepare him for the Whitney in relative anonymity at Aqueduct, where he was scheduled to have a final half-mile blowout for the race on Wednesday. Rail Trip will make the four-hour van ride up to Saratoga on Thursday.

Rail Trip, winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup for trainer Ron Ellis two years ago, is coming off a tough head setback at the hands of fellow Whitney contender Friend or Foe in Belmont Park’s Easy Goer overnight stakes on June 5. It was the first outing this year for Rail Trip and just his second since being sent east to join Dutrow’s barn last summer. Rail Trip finished a disappointing and well-beaten fifth in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup Handicap in his only other New York appearance during the fall.

“We had a lot of problems with his right front frog when he first arrived,” said Dutrow, referring to part of the horse’s foot. “You never knew what to expect from day to day, but I think we’ve got the problem pretty well handled at this time. I loved his last race, and he’s been doing tremendous ever since. He’s in a zone right now, and I’m real excited about this race coming up.”

John’s Call draws full field

Friday’s main event will be the $75,000 John’s Call to be decided at 1 5/8 miles on the turf. The race drew a full field of 12 ,including the 7-year-old Bold Hawk, who faced Grade 1 company in each of his last two starts.

Bold Hawk, who has not won since capturing the Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby in October 2007, was idle nearly three years before returning to action with trainer James Toner last fall. He finished fifth in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap and sixth in the Grade 1 United Nations in his last two outings.

“It’s hard to find races for a horse who likes this type of distance,” Toner said. “And there’s no such thing as an easy spot here at Saratoga. Even an overnight race like this one has 12 in it. He never had a chance to run last time, he lugged in so badly that Elvis [Trujillo] really had a hard time with him. Hopefully he’ll get a decent trip on Friday and we can get back in action with him.”

Toner also said that Winter Memories came out of her sparkling victory in last week’s Lake George Stakes in good order, and the plan is to bring her back in the Grade 2 Lake Placid here on Aug. 21.

Afleet Again to bypass Birdstone for John’s Call

Afleet Again, who finished fourth in the 2010 Travers, was cross–entered by trainer Butch Reid in both Thursday’s Birdstone and Friday’s John’s Call, but after working him three furlongs over the turf on Monday, Reid has decided to have Afleet Again make his grass debut in the John’s Call.

“I had to enter for the Birdstone before I got the chance to work him on the grass, and I wanted to keep my options open in case he laid an egg on the turf,” said Reid. “But the rider said he really enjoyed the grass, and I’m a firm believer that you’ve got to give turf a shot at least once in every horse’s career. He’s an Afleet Alex and they like the grass, and the distance of this race is certainly up his alley.”

Stat moves fast for Saratoga Special

Stat, a popular two-length winner of his career debut last month at Belmont Park, worked five furlongs in 1:01.56 in company with an unnamed 2-year-old stablemate here Tuesday in preparation for his stakes debut in the Saratoga Special on Aug. 15.

“I think he’s a nice colt, and we’re looking forward to the Saratoga Special,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Stat for the Bortolazzo Stable.

Pletcher also confirmed that Giant Surprise, who suffered a condylar fracture in his left foreleg after registering an easy debut victory of his own on Saturday, underwent successful surgery earlier this week.

“He had two screws put in and everything went smoothly,” said Pletcher. “I don’t know all the details yet and at this point it’s too early to make any prognosis.”