12/18/2008 1:00AM

Tiz a Blend's fitness a question mark

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Nearly eight months after her last start, Tiz a Blend makes her comeback in Saturday's $75,000 Cat's Cradle Handicap at Hollywood Park. How ready she is to return in a race going 7 1/2 furlongs is another matter.

The race is more than a sprint, but not quite a route. "You've got to train it as a mile race," trainer Carla Gaines said. "To say she's dead set and ready, that's a bit of a question."

The surface is also an issue. Owned by Warren Williamson, Tiz a Blend has won 3 of 11 starts, but is winless in four starts on synthetic main tracks.

"I'd prefer the grass, but she's run well on the synthetic," Gaines said. "I think she's had excuses. We can always come up with excuses."

Tiz a Blend's last victory occurred in the Valentine Dancer Handicap at a mile on turf at Santa Anita in April. Like the Cat's Cradle, the Valentine Dancer is restricted to statebred females.

Tiz a Blend finished fourth in the Fran's Valentine Stakes as the 7-10 favorite here in April, and was turned out after that race. "She had a knee that was bothering her," Gaines said. "She's training extremely well."

On Saturday, Tiz a Blend will be ridden by leading rider Rafael Bejarano and is part of a field of seven fillies and mares. The race has drawn four other 2008 stakes winners - Bai and Bai, Gambler's Justice, Malia Sofia, and Spenditallbaby.

Bai and Bai is winless in two starts at this meeting - a third in the It's in the Air Stakes on Nov. 2 and a last-place finish in a field of seven in the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap on Dec. 7.

"It's a quick turnaround," trainer Craig Dollase said. "We'll put blinkers on and take a shot. The quick turnaround is something new."

Bai and Bai has won 10 of 27 starts and $677,758. Dollase said Bai and Bai will be retired this winter to be bred, but the Cat's Cradle is not necessarily her final start.

"If she runs well, we'll take a stab at the Sunshine Millions" in January, Dollase said. "That will be her last start."

Rail Trip will be favored in first try vs. winners

Rail Trip could not have run better when he beat maidens by 3 1/2 lengths in his debut here on Nov. 7. The win did little to tell trainer Ron Ellis the depth of the gelding's ability.

"He's still learning what it's all about," Ellis said.

Ellis and owners Mace and Samantha Siegel may have a better indication of the gelding's talent after Rail Trip starts against winners for the first time in a $38,000 allowance race at 6 1/2 furlongs in Saturday's fourth race.

Rail Trip is part of a field of six and will be heavily favored. After all, he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102 in his debut, a figure more common for a stakes horse than a maiden.

"I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'm not bringing him back too soon," Ellis said. "I've always been told they need plenty of time between races. He seemed like he won with a lot left."

Ellis said conversations with the Siegels never included a start in the $250,000 Malibu Stakes at seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Dec. 26, a late-season Grade 1 race for 3-year-olds. If Rail Trip is as good as expected, there will be plenty of stakes opportunities in 2009.

"I'm trying to figure out where we're at," Ellis said. "At 2, I told Samantha he was our Derby horse, but we had to do surgery on an ankle."

Rail Trip has drawn post 5 and will be ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr. Rail Trip is one of three horses in the field that won their last starts, joined by Gold Star Status, the winner of a starter allowance, and Aggie Engineer, who has not started since beating maidens in February.

Rail Trip has ample speed and is likely to have the early lead, if Valdivia chooses that tactic. "The outside draw is nice," Ellis said. "We don't have to rush him out of there."

Golden Spikes debuts for O'Neill in Malibu

Golden Spikes, the winner of the Grade 2 Carry Back Stakes at Calder in July, will make his California debut in the Malibu Stakes, co-owner Pablo Suarez said Thursday.

Trained in Florida by Marty Wolfson, Golden Spikes has been sent to trainer Doug O'Neill's stable. Golden Spikes was second in his last start, the minor Radar Love Stakes at Calder on Nov. 22.

"Marty thinks he'll like the synthetic track a lot," Suarez said. "We know [the Malibu] will be a salty race and we'll be 20-1, but we think he's poised for a big effort.

"He's never won outside of Calder, and that will be the knock on him. Hopefully, we can make a run. I think the distance will be perfect for him."

Golden Spikes has been kept to sprints in recent months, but ran in route races earlier this year, including a second in the Illinois Derby at 1 1/8 miles at Hawthorne in April.

Suarez said there is a possibility that Golden Spikes could stay in California for the remainder of the Strub Series at Santa Anita, pending the Malibu results.

Saturday's ninth race, an optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles, could produce a few starters for stakes at Santa Anita in coming weeks.

The field of six includes Great Hunter, who is winless in seven starts since the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita in March 2007; Mr. Chairman, winner of the $250,000 California Cup Classic in October; and Neko Bay, who was second in the Santana Mile at Santa Anita in March and has not started since April.

Vacare heads Dahlia on closing day

Sunday is closing day of the Hollywood Park autumn meeting. The nine-race program is highlighted by the $150,000 Dahlia Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf. The race has drawn a field of 12 led by Vacare, the 122-pound highweight. Vacare has one stakes win this year - the Grade 2 Palomar Handicap at Del Mar in August.