09/03/2009 11:00PM

Church Service preps for BC Marathon

Lone Star Park
The California-based Church Service goes for his first win since May 2008 in the Washington Park Handicap.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The eight horses entered in the $200,000 Washington Park Handicap on Saturday at Arlington Park made their most recent starts at six different venues. They also posted timed workouts during August at seven different tracks. And, if you were to ask eight different handicappers, you could get eight different opinions on who might actually win Arlington's annual foray into the main-track handicap division.

The Washington Park, carded for 1 3/16 miles, goes as race 8 of 10 Saturday, and shares top billing with the Arlington-Washington Futurity (race 6) and the Arlington-Washington Lassie (race 9). The Grade 3 Washington Park is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, with the winner guaranteed a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Win and You're in, however, does not include entry fees, and it costs at least $150,000 to start in the Classic.

But California-based trainer Mike Mitchell is thinking BC Marathon, not Classic, with Church Service. Church Service finished second by a head in that race last year, and is using the Washington Park as a final prep for this year's edition.

Church Service never has won over a synthetic track, but has been second three times and third another in his five such starts. He hasn't finished first on any surface since capturing the Dallas Turf Cup in May 2008, but neither has Church Service turned in anything but solid efforts in seven of his subsequent losses. The lone exception came when Church Service suffered heatstroke during the San Juan Capistrano.

"The one thing I always felt he needed was speed in the race, and I think he's got that here," said Mitchell.

Church Service was joined on a flight by Unusual Suspect, who beat him in the Cougar II on Aug. 5 at Del Mar. But while Church Service blew out six furlongs Saturday, Unusual Suspect just raced on Sunday, finishing fifth in the Del Mar Handicap. Trainer Barry Abrams, however, regularly starts and wins with horses coming back on short rest.

Woodbine invader Palladio comes off an Aug. 3 victory in the Seagram's Cup, his third win over Polytrack, and has recently posted sharp works for trainer Roger Attfield. Eldaafer won the Brooklyn Handicap at 17-1 in June, but that sloppy-track victory was a career-best. Wicked Style once looked like a Polytrack specialist, but his recent history says otherwise. Dubious Miss could set the pace, and likes Polytrack, but is suspect at the distance. And the local hopes are carried by Gran Estreno, winner of five in a row, and 2 for 2 in his synthetic races.