Trainer Ron Ellis said Sunday morning that Rafael Bejarano would ride Rail Trip in the $150,000 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Hollywood Park Saturday.
Bejarano replaces Jose Valdivia, Jr., who had ridden the 5-year-old gelding in all nine of his previous starts before shifting his tack to the East Coast last month.
“He’ll work an easy half mile Wednesday,” said Ellis of the horse’s final drill for his first start since a third-place finish in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar last September.
Rail Trip finished second in the Mervyn LeRoy and Californian last year before posting the biggest win of his career in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He has won six of nine and earned $787,790 for Mace and Samantha Siegel’s Jay Em Ess Stable.
Ellis indicated the Kentucky-bred son of Jump Start will continue on the same path this year. The Grade II Mervyn LeRoy will be run at 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track, followed by The Californian on June 12 and the Gold Cup on July 10.
Joe Talamo, who won the Mervyn LeRoy last year on longshot Ball Four, has taken a call on Cigar Man for trainer Vladimir Cerin.
The pair could be joined in the Mervyn LeRoy by 2008 Gold Cup winner Mast Track, 2008 Mervyn LeRoy third-place finisher Dakota Phone, 2008 Swaps Stakes winner and 2009 Gold Cup runner-up Tres Borrachos, Aitcho, Blue Chagall, Sangaree, Serra Song and Slew’s Tiznow.
Ellis had a busy morning, including a turf work by two-time San Simeon Handicap winner Mr Gruff for the $250,000 Shoemaker Mile on May 31.
“He just went an easy half in 50 and change (50.60 breezing),” said Ellis after the drill under exercise rider Jose Dominguez. Mr Gruff, by Mr. Greeley out of the mare Ruff, will try to negotiate two turns for the first time in the Shoemaker.
“I’ll see how he goes working longer,” said Ellis. “I’m trying to get him to relax. He’s a real sensible horse and bred to go longer. His dam won a graded stake at a mile and a sixteenth.”
Ellis also worked Vision In Gold six furlongs in 1:13.40 on the main track for the $100,000 Grade III Railbird Stakes, a seven-furlong test for 3-year-old fillies next Sunday. Tyler Baze has the call on the Jay Em Ess filly, who broke her maiden at second asking at Santa Anita on March 11.
Ellis also said that the Jay Em Ess-owned Golden Itiz, winner of an allowance race here Wednesday, had earned a return in the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap for 3-year-olds on June 19.
Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer barely had time to catch his breath while watching Tuscan Evening work on the turf here Sunday morning for the $250,000 Gamely Stakes on May 29.
Hollendorfer was still on cloud nine after sending out Blind Luck to victory in the $500,000 Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs Friday and hoping to continue his prowess in the 3-year-old filly division with favored City to City in the $100,000 Grade III Senorita Stakes on the grass here this afternoon.
“This Kentucky Oaks was just extra special for me,” said Hollendorfer after a powerful stretch rally under Rafael Bejarano carried Blind Luck to a nose victory over another California shipper, Evening Jewel.
“This one seems like it was bigger and better,” said Hollendorfer after his third victory in the race. “They do it up more than they used to.”
Blind Luck, winner of the Grade I Hollywood Starlet in December, was scheduled to be flown here later Sunday. “We’ll start over and make a new plan,” said co-owner Hollendorfer of Blind Luck’s next start. “We want to plan things to contend at the end of the year.”
Tuscan Evening, named Horse of the Meet at Santa Anita after four graded stakes wins on the turf, worked five furlongs in 1:01.40 under exercise rider Marco Ramirez. “Very good,” said Hollendorfer of the move. “We’re shooting for the Gamely.”
The Irish-bred 5-year-old mare aims for her first Grade I victory in the Gamely for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
Hollendorfer also worked B. Thoughtful Stakes winner U R All That I Am in a bullet four furlongs on 49.80 on the lawn for a probable return in the Fran’s Valentine Stakes on May 23.
Jockey Victor Espinoza, who won the Railbird Stakes aboard Witty last year, seeks another victory in the $100,000 stake with Southern Fireball next Sunday. The Grade III test is for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs on Cushion Track.
Espinoza will be after his third Railbird victory overall. He also won the race with Buffythecenterfold in 2003.
Southern Fireball, trained by Doug O’Neill, set a track record of 50.67 for 4 ½ furlongs in breaking her maiden here last year on May 14. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Southern Image returned from an eight-month layoff with an allowance victory on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita on April 4.
Other probable starters include All Due Respect (Rafael Bejarano), Church Camp (Joe Talamo) and Vision In Gold (Tyler Baze).
Other nominees include Santa Paula Stakes winner Tanda, the Bob Baffert-trained quartet of Crisis of Spirit, Excellent News, Miss Heather Lee and Seriously, the John Sadler-trained duo of Stockings and Switch, and the Richard Mandella-conditioned pair of Hard Way Ten and Timezone.
FINISH LINES—Trainer Marty Jones said that Compari, scratched from the Inglewood Handicap on April 25 because of a bruised foot, has returned to training with a target of the Shoemaker Mile on May 31. “He breezed on the grass the other day and was moving good,” said Jones of Compari, on a six-race winning streak after capturing the Grade II Arcadia Handicap in his last outing…*Christian Santiago Reyes*, Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey last year, said he will lose his “bug” (weight allowance) on May 16…Trainer Humberto Ascanio said that Philatelist will skip the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap because of a skin rash but hopes to make The Californian on June 12. Ascanio is also looking forward to the debut this month of Cause It Hertz, a fashionably-bred 3-year-old colt by Giant’s Causeway out of multiple stakes-winning mare Megahertz. “He’s even a little meaner than his mother,” said Ascanio with a smile of the feisty compact comet that he handled as an assistant to the late Bobby Frankel …There has been one winning Pick Six ticket in five of the first seven days of the Hollywood Park meet, including the first four days. Following are the date, size of the winning tickets, the payoff amount and where they were purchased: April 21, $8, $55,949, TVG; April 23, $360, $81,130, TVG; April 24, $32, $146,703, Santa Anita; April 25, $1,040, $142,118, Youbet and April 30, $960, $64,443, Youbet…Kerwin John, returned to the circuit for the first time in two years, enjoyed a memorable day last year on October 11, winning a track-record seven races with eight mounts on a nine-race card at Randall Doc James Track in St. Croix…Trainer Ben Cecil is pointing Medaglia d’Amour, winner of the $100,000 Grade III Wilshire Handicap Saturday, for the $250,000 Grade I Gamely Stakes on May 29.
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