11/20/2012 4:42PM

Hollywood Park: Church Avenue looks key to $560K pick six carryover


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The difficult task of finding six straight winners Thursday at Betfair Hollywood Park could give a horseplayer a headache.

It would be nothing compared to the headache Church Avenue suffered this summer.

The largest pick six carryover of the Hollywood fall meet – $560,134 – is up for grabs Thursday, and Church Avenue is a potential single in her first start since recovering from a likely concussion sustained when she banged her head on the Del Mar starting gate three months ago.

Thanksgiving bettors are expected to wager at least $2 million into the pick six on races 4-9. Post time is early, 11 a.m., and the first leg of the pick six is scheduled for 12:30. By the time Church Avenue starts favored in race 7, the pick six will be halfway finished and a good number of tickets will be on the deck.

Church Avenue was virtually knocked out her most recent start Aug. 10. The odds-on favorite in an allowance for California-bred fillies and mares, she lunged at the gate before it opened. It was skull versus steel.

“She hit the gate pretty hard with her head,” trainer Ron Ellis said.

Church Avenue set the pace and surrendered to fifth. Ellis speculated she sustained a concussion.

“I think she did,” he said. “She didn’t act right; she wouldn’t even work.”

Adding insult to injury, Church Avenue was disqualified to last due to her “head” start. In following weeks, she was reluctant to train. It was odd, because the 6-year-old veteran is a consummate pro with nine wins from 27 starts. The only thing to do was wait, and hope Church Avenue eventually recovered.

Thankfully and finally, she did. “She’s back doing well,” Ellis said.

“She seems to run her best race off a layoff, and she loves this racetrack.”

Church Avenue is 5 for 9 at Hollywood, and the controlling speed in the six-furlong allowance for California-bred fillies and mares. David Flores rides Church Avenue, whose main rival is presser You Can Dream, also a horse-for-course with four wins at Hollywood.

Listed at 5-2 by track linemaker Russ Hudak, Church Avenue falls short of being a slam dunk. But the same is true for every other favorite in the pick six. Below is a capsule glance at the five other races.

◗ Race 4 is a turf sprint for 3-year-old fillies, $50,000 claiming.

Front-running course specialist Tasty Treat is favored, though she faces pressure from speedster Catienus Gold. The race could unfold perfectly for Blushing Martha and route-to-sprint Love Tale.

◗ Race 5, a $10,000 claimer for 3-year-olds, includes suspect favorite Idontrollonshabbos. He ran poorly last out against similar, without a visible alibi. Beau Royale, the most likely winner, is in sharp form and has speed to establish position from the inside.

Late-running contenders are Mr.  Why Why and horse-for-course The Bien’s Gift.

◗ Race 6 is a turf-route allowance for fillies and mares. Byrony is the favorite dropping from stakes and returning to the course on which she won her first two U.S. starts in spring. Her advantage, however, is minimal. Hard to Resist is rounding into form, while comebacker Private Affair and back-in-a-week Plaza de Indias also figure.

◗ Race 8 is a deep, competitive turf route for 3-year-olds, $50,000 claiming. You Know I Know and A Toast to You are the main contenders.

Secondary contenders are stretch-out Candy Waltz, Shadow Runner, McAllister Boys and Time Lord.

◗ Race 9 is a $30,000 maiden claimer for 2-year-olds, with another sketchy favorite. Sacred Ovation drops in class despite good recent races. First-time starter Mentalize makes his debut as a live 8-1 shot for trainer John Sadler. The past five years, Sadler is 10 for 25 with 2-year-old debut maiden claimers. Mentalize, by Cindago, should fire at a price.