Astra Draws Off in Beverly Hills 'Cap

Astra Draws Off in Beverly Hills 'Cap
Photo: AP/Benoit & Associates
Jockey Kent Desormeaux returned from Japan to ride Astra to victory.
On Sunday, Astra avenged a defeat to Happyanunoit in last year's Beverly Hills Handicap (gr. IT), pulling away in the stretch to a four-length triumph over last year's winner in the $200,000 Hollywood Park feature. In last year's renewal, Astra finished fifth after being disqualified from fourth.

"I made a mistake of running her back a little quick last year," trainer Simon Bray said. "That won't happen again. She runs well off a layoff. The plan probably now -- we're looking at the Breeders' Cup -- is maybe the Beverly D and the Breeders' Cup."

Happyanunoit set a moderate early pace under pressure from Polaire as those two raced heads apart after a half-mile run in :49.78 on the firm turf course. Jockey Kent Desormeaux had Astra positioned in third at that point, two lengths farther back. Gary Stevens moved Kalypso Katie up to challenge Happyanunoit as Polaire faded and Kalypso Katie put her head in front after six furlongs run in 1:13.15, with Astra now fourth. The pace quickened for the next quarter-mile – run in :23.06 -- as Happyanunoit regained a short lead over Kalypso Katie. Happyanunoit opened a lead in the stretch, but Astra was just beginning to roll. The Simon Bray trainee drove clear in the final furlong to the impressive win, completing the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59.61.

"I said I'd go halfway around the world and back to ride this mare, and she was worth it," said Desormeaux, who arrived in California after from Japan earlier in the day. "She has the best turn-of-foot of any mare I've ever ridden. She is very, very special, obviously, and I think Simon has done an exceptional job with her because I don't think people realize how aggressive she used to be. She is very much a lady now, and Simon taught her how to be that. She is just responding to my cues. She is good, really good."

"My only concern was we were gonna get bottled up on the inside," Bray said. "The way Kalypso Katie went -- didn't sit with us -- I was a lot happier. And like Kent says, she has so much acceleration, when she corners, she tends to drift out a bit, so he waits until she straightens out. And watching this race today, a mile and three-eighths (the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf distance) does not look like a problem."

Happyanunoit finished 3 1/2 lengths ahead of Kalypso Katie. Polaire and Jig completed the order of finish.

Racing in the colors of her breeder, the late Allen Paulson, the win marks the eighth in 10 career starts for Astra. It is also her second win in two starts for her current campaign, coming on the heels of her three-length win in the Santa Barbara Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita in April. The win is her second grade I victory. As a 4-year-old, Astra (Theatrical--Savannah Slew, by Seattle Slew) defeated Happyanunoit by a half-length in the Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IT).

The 9-10 favorite in the five-horse field, Astra returned $3.80, $2.40, and $2.10. Happyanunoit paid $2.40 and $2.10. Kalypso Katie was worth $2.10 to show. The $1 exacta paid $3. (Chart, Equibase)

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