INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- It's easy to put a label on a horse.
When Rail Trip entered training in 2007, trainer Ron Ellis thought he'd be a Derby horse in 2008. That ended when the colt was diagnosed with a bone chip in an ankle. Earlier this year, after Rail Trip won three two-turn races but was beaten in two stakes, it looked like was a miler.
It turns out that Rail Trip is a Gold Cup horse, as in Saturday's $700,000 Hollywood Gold Cup.
Winning his first graded stakes, Rail Trip stalked 23-1 pacesetter Tres Borrachos to the final turn and pulled clear through the stretch to win the Grade 1 Gold Cup by three lengths. Ridden by Jose Valdivia, Jr. Rail Trip ($21.40) ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.75, a track record on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track synthetic surface.
The victory ended a two-race losing streak for Rail Trip, second-place finishes in the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap in May and the Grade 2 Californian Stakes in June. Those losses were preceded by wins in his first five starts.
"He's a lightly raced horse and I think he learned a lot off those two races," Ellis said. "I think he got labeled a little too early in his life. All the races he's run have been a build-up to this."
The Gold Cup was the first time that Rail Trip was not favored. Owned by Mace and Samantha Siegel, Rail Trip was dismissed as the fifth choice in the betting.
Valdivia kept Rail Trip near the front throughout, tracking Tres Borrachos through early fractions of 23.72 and 47.94 seconds. Rail Trip moved alongside Tres Borrachos on the turn and was not threatened in the stretch, turning a lead of 1 1/2 lengths at the eighth pole to three lengths at the finish.
"Before I got to the quarter pole, I thought, 'I'm going to try to break this race open,' " Valdivia said. "I didn't think it was a matter if he was good enough. I just kept thinking whether he could get the mile and a quarter. I knew they were really going to have to run hard to get by me."
Tres Borrachos, the winner of the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes in 2008, held second, finishing 4 3/4 lengths in front of Life Is Sweet, the only female in the field of 13. Life Is Sweet, who won the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Handicap at Santa Anita in March, was 12th on the backstretch and passed eight rivals in the final furlong to be third.
"She ran okay," said jockey Garrett Gomez. "I still believe she doesn't handle this racetrack as well as she does Santa Anita's."
Mast Track, who won the 2008 Gold Cup finished fourth, followed by Parading (the 2-1 favorite), Informed, Magnum, Global Hunter, Dakota Phone, Bullsbay, Song of Navarone, Big Booster, and Autism Awareness.
Ellis described the win as his biggest personal achievement since 2004 when Declan's Moon was the champion 2-year-old male.
Rail Trip has won 6 of 8 starts and $667,790. His first five wins consisted of a maiden race, three allowance races, and the Santana Mile Handicap at Santa Anita in April.
The victory was a vindication for Samantha Siegel, who always through Rail Trip had the ability to win a major race.
"We gave him plenty of time," she said. "We thought he'd make a good older horse.
"He's gotten better after every single race. It took us a little longer to get him to these type of races."