STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN, SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 22ND, 2009

RAIL TRIP’S NEXT RACE UNDECIDED; VALDIVIA ON CHAMPS ELYSEES IN BIG ’CAP

Although Rail Trip has been nominated to the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 7, chances of the unbeaten gelding running in the mile and a quarter classic seemed extremely remote Sunday. His regular rider, Jose Valdivia Jr., has been engaged to ride Champs Elysees by Bobby Frankel in the Big ’Cap, a decision the Hall of Fame trainer confirmed this morning.

“We nominated, but we’re probably not going to run,” trainer Ron Ellis said of Rail Trip, who posted his fourth consecutive impressive victory last Friday, but who has never run in a stakes race. Asked about the possibility of running in the Grade II, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 4, Ellis was non-committal.

“We’ll see how he’s doing, how the race shapes up and that kind of stuff . . . We’re definitely on the fence,” Ellis said. “Oaklawn might be a possibility. We’ve still got to sit down (with owners Mace and Samantha Siegel), and if we skip the Santa Anita Handicap, we’ve got to come up with a plan of what we want to do.

“The problem is, like I said before, we got out of sync with the stakes schedule here by about two weeks. We could have gone in the Strub (Stakes on Feb. 7) and then gone in the Santa Anita Handicap. But as it is now, coming back in two weeks is kind of pushing it a little bit, but we’ll see. He’s nominated, and it’s not ruled out.

Asked if the plan would be predicated on eventually running in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Oak Tree Nov. 7, and arranging a schedule leading to that race, Ellis said, “We’ve got to get him to win some stakes first, but obviously, our long-range thinking is the Breeders’ Cup.”

In other Big ’Cap news: With Joe Talamo, who has ridden San Fernando Stakes winner Nownownow in his last two races, scheduled to ride I Want Revenge for Jeff Mullins in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct on March 7, Julien Leparoux has picked up the mount on Nownownow in either the Grade I Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita the same day, or the Big ’Cap.

“We have a lot to consider before the races,” trainer Patrick Biancone said when asked which race Nownownow would run in. “Nothing is ruled out. Each race is a handicap, so we will look at the weights, who is running, and go from there.”

Frankel has not ruled out running Hollywood Gold Cup winner Mast Track. “He’ll have one more work and then I’ll decide,” said the trainer, who worked Champs Elysees five furlongs on Pro-Ride Sunday in 1:00.20.

Strub Stakes winner Cowboy Cal worked five furlongs on Pro-Ride in 1:01.40 for Todd Pletcher, while Blue Exit went seven furlongs in 1:30.60 for Jerry Hollendorfer. At Hollywood Park, Tiago worked six furlongs for John Shirreffs in 1:12.40.

IMPROVING VENTANA SET FOR SATURDAY’S SHAM STAKES

Bob Baffert is calling on the junior varsity for Saturday’s Sham Stakes. With his leading Triple Crown contender Pioneerof the Nile ticketed for the San Felipe Stakes on March 14 prior to his major goal on the West Coast, the Santa Anita Derby on April 4, Baffert has Ventana on course for the Grade III Sham at 1 1/8 miles.

Ventana, a $410,000 son of Toccet, broke his maiden at first asking, winning last Sept. 5 at Belmont Park by 5 ½ lengths. Since then, he has run in six consecutive stakes, finishing a creditable fourth in the Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 16, beaten only 2 ½ lengths by the filly Evita Argentina. “He actually ran better (in the San Vicente),” Baffert said of Ventana. “He didn’t give it up. He was right there; he was steady the whole way. He just got beat.”

Probable for the ninth running of the $200,000 Sham: Balfour Park, no rider; Mark S the Cooler, Corey Nakatani; Ventana, Jesus Rios; The Pamplemousse, Alex Solis; Mr. Hot Stuff, no rider; and possibly Take the Points.

PIONEEROF THE NILE WORKS FOR MARCH 14 SAN FELIPE STAKES

Leading Triple Crown contender Pioneerof the Nile worked five furlongs under Garrett Gomez on Pro-Ride Sunday in 1:00.60 for the March 14 San Felipe Stakes, the colt’s final major prep prior to the Santa Anita Derby on April 4.

“He broke behind a group of horses and it worked out perfect,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “He’s right on schedule. He went out three-quarters in like 12 and four (1:12 4/5). He did it the right way.”

Added Gomez, who is seeking his third consecutive national money-winning title: “I thought he worked really well . . . He accelerated very nicely and galloped out really strong. He looked very happy.”

HOLY ANGELS-SANTA ANITA RIDERS PLAY FOR CHARITY THIS THURSDAY

The 42nd annual Holy Angels-Santa Anita Jockeys charity basketball game will be played this Thursday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m., at La Salle High School in Pasadena. Proceeds benefit the Holy Angels athletic department.

Legendary Hall of Fame jockeys Eddie Delahoussaye and Laffit Pincay Jr. will serve as honorary captains, and will be available to sign autographs from 6 to 7 p.m. in the La Salle High gymnasium. La Salle High School is located at the southwest corner of Michillinda Ave. and Sierra Madre Blvd. in Pasadena, approximately four miles from Santa Anita. Admission is $5.

FINISH LINES: With two stakes wins at Santa Anita Saturday, including a dead-heat on Bel Air Sizzle in the Valentine Dancer Handicap, Garrett Gomez has 14 stakes wins this meet and is well on course to break the meet mark for stakes wins at Santa Anita of 19, shared by Laffit Pincay Jr. (1982-83) and Corey Nakatani (1996-97) . . . CBS SportsCentral will televise live today’s San Luis Obispo Handicap at approximately 4:07 p.m. . . . Brian Koriner, trainer of Onebadkitty, who dead-heated with Bel Air Sizzle, thought he lost the photo, despite a nightmarish trip by Bel Air Sizzle, a daughter of Unusual Heat trained by Barry Abrams. “I got the worst of the bob,’ Koriner said. “I thought I got beat. The other filly ran huge on the inside. It looked like my filly was going to kick clear and win, and here comes another Unusual Heat. What’s new?” . . . Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner and Santa Monica Handicap winner Ventura, prepping for the April 9 Vinery Madison at Keeneland, went five furlongs on Pro-Ride Sunday in a minute flat for Bobby Frankel . . . Spots are still open in Santa Anita’s “Battle of the Handicapping Stars” contest, which offers a $20,000 first prize. For further information, visit the track’s website at santaanita.com . . . Two contestants remain alive entering Sunday’s races in Santa Anita’s on line handicapping contest, ShowVivor.

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