12/09/2008 1:00AM

Antique Avenue's style a plus in allowance


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - When Antique Avenue went to the sidelines following his debut one year ago, trainer Ray Bell decided it also would be a good time to geld the colt. Since his return, Antique Avenue has been a different horse. He rattled off three straight wins, then turned in an excellent effort when second in his most recent start on Nov. 22. His sharp current form makes him the one to beat in Thursday's featured seventh race at Hollywood Park.

Antique Avenue's last three races have been on turf. On Thursday, he moves back to the main track in a first-level, $39,000 allowance that has drawn seven others going 1 1/16 miles on Cushion Track. The surface switch does not concern Bell, though, because Antique Avenue defeated maidens on a synthetic surface at Del Mar during the summer. And his style of running suits this surface, which has favored horses who are forwardly placed early.

"With his style of running, he can lay close," Bell said Tuesday morning. "He's got a high cruising speed. He can go at a nice, comfortable pace. He's pretty versatile. It looks like there are several in the race who can be on or near the lead. If someone wants to go for the lead, he can sit off them. That makes him a nice horse for a jockey to ride. He's very manageable."

Oh, what a difference a year has made. Bell said that when Antique Avenue first came to the track, he was a nervous wreck.

"The horse is maturing, getting more seasoned as we go. When he came back," after being gelded, Bell said, "he was a lot more business-like. He would get hot and bothered in the morning and the afternoon. Sometimes, horses are just easier on themselves after they're gelded. He was one of them. His milder temper lets him deal with the day-to-day training better than last year."

Among the main challengers to Antique Avenue is Serra Song, who defeated maidens here one year ago and is making his first start since April, when he finished second in a similar first-level allowance at Santa Anita. Although he was beaten in his debut and in a comeback race following a freshening in March, those races are better-than-looked; he had rough trips. He could fire fresh.

Lucky Honey defeated a first-level California-bred field last time and now moves into open company. He has finished first or second in his last four starts.

Sir Bell disappointed in his last start here Nov.o15 but would be a threat if he can repeat the quality of his previous race Sept. 24 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.