INGLEWOOD, Calif. (May 9, 2009) — Unbeaten Rail Trip seemed poised to extend his winning streak to six when he pulled alongside gritty veteran Ball Four at the quarter pole, but the pacesetter left the favorite in his wake in the stretch to post a 16-1 upset under jockey Joe Talamo in Saturday’s $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park.
Ball Four, winner of the Fayette at Keeneland and third here in the Native Diver Handicap last fall, bounced back from a ninth-place finish in the San Pasqual in January, leading every step of the way while covering 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track in 1:41.58 to win the 30th running of the Grade II event.
The 8-year-old son of Grand Slam finished 1 ¼ lengths clear of 3-5 favorite Rail Trip with Dakota Phone another half-length back in third in the field of six older horses.
“I’m going to be honest, I thought he would be on the lead,” Talamo said. “I didn’t think there was a whole lot of speed. I just kind of threw his head and he came right back to me. He has such a big, long stride. At the quarter pole I tried to leave him (Rail Trip) as quick as I could — try to open up as much as I could — and he did. He’s a neat old horse.”
Ball Four, owned by Flying Zee Stable and trained by Patrick Biancone, improved his lifetime mark to seven-for-25 while establishing himself as a contender for the 70th running of the prestigious Hollywood Gold Cup in July, although future plans are undecided.
“What a lovely old horse,” Biancone said. “He runs well fresh and he was in great condition when we bought him from (Todd) Pletcher. We’ll see how he is, we cannot run too often, so we will space a little bit then go from there.”
Rail Trip, who won his first two career starts in impressive fashion here last fall, added three wins to his resume during the winter/spring meeting at Santa Anita and looked to be in perfect position entering the far turn.
“I thought he had that horse any time he wanted around the turn — it ooked like it to me — but obviously he had something left,” trainer Ron Ellis said. “The winner ran a great race, I under estimated him a little bit. I wasn’t going to go out there and put a lot of pressure on him, but we were tracking him perfectly . . . there were no excuses.”
Ball Four, who banked $90,000 to boost his earnings to $711,520, was the first of back-to-back winners for Biancone and Talamo. He paid $34, $9.80 and $3.80. Rail Trip returned $2.80 and $2.10, while the show payoff on Dakota Phone was $2.10.
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