05/08/2009 12:00AM

Stiffer test for Rail Trip


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The hype surrounding Rail Trip over the last few months can turn to substance Saturday at Hollywood Park.

Unbeaten in five starts, Rail Trip makes his graded stakes debut in the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap, a Grade 2 race over 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track. A win there will prove that Rail Trip is capable of more than winning allowance races or minor stakes such as the Santana Mile Handicap, which he won at Santa Anita last month.

Rail Trip is the only 2009 stakes winner in a field of six, but the race will provide him with a tactical test. Rail Trip has led or disputed the pace in all five of his starts and could face pressure if similar tactics are employed Saturday.

More than likely, jockey Jose Valdivia Jr. will have Rail Trip slightly behind expected leaders Aggie Engineer and Ball Four.

"I don't see any problem with him rating," trainer Ron Ellis said. "He worked behind a horse and didn't pull. Until they do it, you don't know if they'll do it."

Owned by Jay Em Ess Stable, Rail Trip made his debut last November, winning a maiden race here for sprinters. He followed with a victory in an optional claimer at Hollywood Park in December and won two similar races over 1 1/16 miles on Pro-Ride at Santa Anita in January and February.

In his stakes debut in the Santana Mile, Rail Trip took an easy lead, led by three lengths in the stretch, but won by just a nose over Mervyn LeRoy entrant Dakota Phone. Valdivia did not urge Rail Trip in the final sixteenth, and jockey Rafael Bejarano on Dakota Phone nearly stole the race.

"I don't mind winning by a short margin, but that was a little too short," Ellis said. "You don't get paid extra for winning by more, but you don't want to cut it that close."

Rail Trip is based at Hollywood Park, and the trainer says the 4-year-old gelding prefers this track to Santa Anita.

"The way he's working and the way he acts, he seems to appreciate this track more," Ellis said.

Dakota Phone, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, is seeking the biggest win of his career. He will be a threat from off the pace.

Fire Wood, claimed for $32,000 in January, and Unusual Suspect, third in the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf in January, are the other starters.