06/02/2003 11:00PM

Drysdale runner off layoff looks the way to go

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Trainer Neil Drysdale is making it easy for Hollywood Park handicappers. His comeback filly Christel Flame faces five rivals Thursday in the seventh-race feature, and the only key questions are what price is fair, and how much to bet.

Christel Flame has not raced since mid-January, but according to Drysdale's recent profile, the layoff makes her a standout going 1 1/4 miles on turf. It has been that kind of meet for Drysdale, and it began April 23 when Charley Bates returned from a seven-month layoff to win a turf allowance going 1 1/2 miles. It was the tip of the iceberg.

Slew the Red had been off five months when he returned May 1 to score a $37.60 upset going 1 3/16 miles. Next was Storming Home, possibly the most impressive turf winner of the meet when he returned from a layoff of nearly five months to win the Jim Murray Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on grass. Finally, the filly Java returned from a brief freshening May 18 to beat males by four lengths at 1 1/4 miles on turf.

Christel Flame figures to follow suit in a two-other-than optional $80,000 claimer. Her five rivals are modest. They include View From the Top, stepping up off an ordinary first-condition allowance; Tifonica, racing above her conditions; Medinaceli; Top Spinner; and Drew Away.

The race is made to order for Christel Flame, whose only U.S. start was against males Jan. 16 at Santa Anita. She finished fifth, and drops in class to face fillies and mares Thursday. Off her good French form - 2 for 7 overseas - she figures tough to beat under Pat Valenzuela.

In race 5, a field of nine first-condition California-breds race 1 1/16 miles on turf. The field includes First Insight, Roberto's Show, Stand By Your Flag, Fly and Eagle, and Kedington.

Race 4 on the card will be the debut of 2-year-old Blazing Bartok. A filly trained by Paul Aguirre, Blazing Bartok is a full sister to the California Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Euro Empire.