Ridden by Jose Valdivia, Jr., for trainer Ron Ellis, Rail Trip stalked leader John Scott from the start of the mile and one-sixteenth, closely following a slow pace of :25.13 and :49.98.
Rail Trip edged into a narrow advantage over a stubborn John Scott, gradually expanding the margin to a half-length at the wire in 1:43.14. John Scott, the lukewarm 3-1 favorite under Victor Espinoza, held second by a half-length over 3-1 Kettle Corn, with Take Control a rallying fourth from last in the field of seven older horses.
The San Diego Handicap is a “Win and You’re In” race qualifying the winner for a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
“It was great. It was awesome. I think he really needed a win,” said Ellis. “The thing I’ve noticed about him since he came back was he didn’t have that swagger he did when he was winning. I think this race will help him get that back.
“I couldn’t have mapped it out any better on paper,” he added. “The plan was to get good position, he broke sharp, Jose (Valdivia, Jr.) made all the right moves and it was a perfect trip. I said if he won this race we’d consider the Pacific Classic and we’ll certainly give it some thought. We’ll see how he trains and how we go forward but it’s going to be a consideration.”
Rail Trip, a gelded son of Jump Start, went postward the fifth choice in the wagering at 9-2 and paid $11.20, $5.60 and $3.80 after scoring his ninth win in 20 career outings. First prize of $120,000 jumped his bankroll to $1,253,790.
Sent to the East coast in the fall of 2010, the speedster was winless in five starts, finally being returned to Ellis’ barn at Hollywood Park in December of last year. In two starts at Hollywood Park this year, he was fourth in the Los Angeles Handicap and second, beaten a half-length by John Scott, in an allowance race. June 28.
With his San Diego success, Rail Trip becomes a contender for the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic which will be presented Sunday, Aug. 26.
–Del Mar Publicity contributed to this report.
Rail Trip/Benoit photo