11/25/2005 12:00AM

Church's Out makes surprise turnaround


STICKNEY, Ill. - Church's Out was on the way out. In nine races between the spring of 2004 and this autumn, Church's Out made nine starts, and in none of them did she finish better than sixth. Once a promising Illinois-bred racehorse, Church's Out was sending out signals that she no longer wanted to be a racehorse at all.

On Oct. 6, for want of a better alternative, trainer Pam Little entered Church's Out in a $10,000 claiming race going six furlongs on dirt. Church's Out had first gotten good as a two-turn turf horse. And until this year, she had never raced for a claiming tag lower than $50,000. At odds of 15-1, Church's Out scored a 6 1/2-length win - and she has not stopped winning since.

Little boosted her up to a $25,000 claimer on Oct. 27, and Church's Out won by more than two lengths. And on Wednesday, in an open third-level allowance race, Church's Out scored by 2 1/2 lengths over a heavily favored filly named G G's Dolly, a horse who most recently had finished a good second in a tough Keeneland allowance race.

"I thought I had no shot," said Little, who trains Church's Out for owner Jake Bryant. "I was going to be happy to be second to that other filly. It was incredible."

The whole thing actually is quite incredible. In racing there are few second acts like Church's Out. When a horse loses his or her form for the better part of two years, it usually is not coming back, and when Little, who has won 9 races from 86 starters this year, opted for a dirt sprint, it was for lack of any other option.

"I was grasping at straws at that point," she said. "She just hadn't been running at all. She had gone in the tank, and it was really just a last-ditch effort. She'd trained good and everything. You wrack your brain, you pull your hair out trying to figure out what's going on."

A disappointment one month, royalty the next. In Little's barn, Church's Out now is called The Princess. "She's got an attitude. Those wins have really picked up her head," Little said.

There still are six weeks of racing left at Hawthorne, plenty of time for Little to find a fourth-level allowance race for her sudden stable star. Church's Out seemed to be looking for competition when she won here Wednesday. Who knows how high her ceiling is now.

Compton's age no handicap

At 53, the jockey Perry Compton is old enough to have retired from race riding. Instead, he came to Hawthorne for the winter.

The Hawthorne area will not be confused with a Mediterranean spa, but Compton, a near legend in Nebraska racing circles, has prospered here this season. His agent, Randy Curran, has put Compton on plenty of horses - 194 through Wednesday's races - and Compton had 21 wins, good for seventh in the standings. He has made inroads into several major stables here, even riding the occasional horse for trainer Wayne Catalano.

"Compton's a good rider," Catal-ano said.

Compton is a smart rider, too. The state of the Hawthorne racetrack often has much to do with the results of Hawthorne races, something Compton has fully grasped.

"You really have to pay attention to the bias here," Compton said this week. "And it's not just from day to day, but even from race to race. You have to try to figure out where you need to be before you go out there for any race."

Compton said he would stay at Hawthorne at least through the end of December. After that, his plans are fluid, with Oaklawn a possibility, and the National Jockey Club meet here in late winter also in the picture.

* Sunday's nine-race card here is on the soft side, and the eighth-race feature, at 6 1/2 furlongs, is for entry-level allowance horses. Three horses may attract the most attention from bettors: Bold Arrival, Caladesi Breeze, and Internship.