Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rail Trip, Ball Four vie again

By Steve Andersen
Daily Racing Form

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- A repeat of the quasi-match race between the front-runners Ball Four and Rail Trip in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap last month may not occur in Saturday's $250,000 Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park. Rather than facing only four others, as they did in the LeRoy, the two have 10 potential spoilers waiting behind them this time.

"I didn't expect there would be that many horses in there," said Ron Ellis, who trains Rail Trip.

Ball Four, an 8-year-old gelding, won the Mervyn LeRoy by 1 1/4 lengths over Rail Trip, leading throughout. Rail Trip was within a half-length until the final turn. The Mervyn LeRoy was Rail Trip's first loss in six starts.

Ellis vows that the same scenario will not repeat itself in the Californian, which is run over 1 1/8 miles.

"We can't let Ball Four do what he did," he said. Rail Trip, said Ellis, "is a faster horse than what he's been showing."

Rail Trip was the 3-5 favorite in the Mervyn LeRoy and is certain to attract massive support in the Californian. Ellis is concerned about the distance, especially if a speed duel develops.

"It doesn't help matters," he said. "There's no question about that. He wasn't stopping in the last race. They were finishing pretty good. There'll be a legitimate pace in there."

Trainer Patrick Biancone warned after the Mervyn LeRoy that Ball Four was better with ample time between races. He said the gelding is training too well to pass the Californian.

"He came out of the race so good and is in good form," Biancone said. "This time, we have two disadvantages. The surprise factor is not there. and we give weight to everybody. We didn't scare away anybody."

Under the allowance conditions of the Californian, Ball Four will carry 120 pounds, spotting the other 11 entrants two to four pounds.

Biancone said he will not try different tactics with Ball Four, who has led through most of his recent starts.

"He has his own style," he said. "He's too old now to change."

There is a solid cast that could benefit if Ball Four and Rail Trip set too fast a pace. Mast Track will attempt to end a four-race losing streak dating back to the 2008 Hollywood Gold Cup. Awesome Gem, third in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic, is a threat from off the pace.

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