The last time I was at Hollywood Park, I was standing on a plastic bucket behind the inside rail and watching my horse, at 8-1, streak to his break-out victory. For whatever reason, Rail Trip was being overlooked thanks to the presence of filly Life is Sweet, who ended up finishing some 9 lengths behind the gutsy gelding in his first Grade I victory. Since then, Rail Trip has had a few triumphs and setbacks; while a foot bruise sidelined him during the Breeders’ Cup action, he came back to win his first two starts of 2010, and placed himself squarely at the top of the West Coast handicap division. Now, Rail Trip will be attempting to win his second Hollywood Gold Cup victory, and join the ranks of legendary 3-peaters Native Diver and Lava Man as being the only horses to have more than one Gold Cup win to their resume. He will also be attempting to be the first horse since Eleven Stitches in 1981 to sweep the Californian Stakes, the Mervyn Leroy Handicap, and the Gold Cup in the same year. But this year, Rail Trip has his work cut out for him.
Last year’s field in the Hollywood Gold Cup was admittedly not a very tough one in retrospect. But this year, two challengers pose worthy threats to the newly-crowned Prince of the West: Richard’s Kid and Compari. If ever there was a diabolical duo ready to bring down the conquering hero, this pair fits the bill. Bob Baffert-trainee Richard’s Kid won the Grade II San Antonio Handicap in February after finishing 3rd in the Breeders’ Cup Classic to Zenyatta and Gio Ponti (announcer Trevor Denman was so excited about Zenyatta’s victory, he messed up the order of finish in the call for the 3rd and 4th place finishers); he is coming off a 7th-place loss in the Dubai World Cup finishing only 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner, which is a race notorious for making its contenders bounce in their following start. Considering the World Cup was 3 1/2 months ago, Richard’s Kid should be fresh for the Hollywood Gold Cup, and the 5-year-old colt has a history of winning after long breaks. His most notable victory came in a star-studded edition of the Grade I Pacific Classic, where he bested Einstein and Rail Trip to win the race at odds of 24-1 in late-running fashion. Rail Trip will be giving Richard’s Kid two pounds as the high weight at 123.
Aside from his last start, the Grade I Shoemaker Mile on May 31st, Compari was a force to be reckoned with. Since coming in third in his maiden race, Compari reeled off 6 wins in a row, including the Snow Chief Stakes and the Grade II Arcadia Handicap, on synthetics or turf. A speed horse that likes to set the pace or sit just off the leader, Compari’s last race was the first time he wasn’t within a length of the front-runner, and when he was shut out of a hole and forced to steady, he folded his cards and never put in a run. He may be a one-dimensional horse, but he has never lost a race that he has led from the first point of call; on the contrary, Compari has never raced the 1 ¼-mile distance of the Hollywood Gold Cup. If he were to get the lead in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Compari would stand a strong chance of stealing the race should Rail Trip not be able to wear him down in the stretch.
Though this test is setting up to be a relay race for Rail Trip, in which Compari will try to drag him from gate-to-wire, and then Richard’s Kid will come flying late to try to nail him at the finish, Rail Trip has greatly matured since his Hollywood Gold Cup victory last year. The 5-year-old gelding has fleshed out and has been winning his most recent races effortlessly, and by convincing margins. With Rail Trip attempting to follow in Native Diver and Lava Man‘s hoofprints with a repeat victory in the race, it only makes it fitting that this year’s edition be led in the post parade by Lava Man himself. Will the post parade serve as a metaphorical passing of the torch to the new Best in the West? If looks are any indication, Rail Trip is a deserving successor to Lava Man’s throne.
The Grade I $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup will air live on TVG and be streamed for free live on NTRA.com this Saturday. Post time is scheduled for approximately 4:35 PT.