Beverly Hills Handicap winner Astra readies for a January comeback.

Beverly Hills Handicap winner Astra readies for a January comeback.

AP/ Benoit & Associates

Astra Ready For Early January Comeback

By Margaret Ransom
Multiple grade I winner Astra, who has not started since developing a foot abscess shortly after her last-place finish in the Aug. 19 Beverly D Stakes (gr. I) at Arlington Park, is back in serious training and being prepared for a 2002 campaign, trainer Laura De Seroux said Thursday.

"She breezed her second half-mile (:48 4/5, handily, over a fast track at San Luis Rey Downs) today," De Seroux said of the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust colorbearer. "The abscess is healed and she's 100 percent. I'm looking at the (January 13) San Gorgonio H. (gr. II) at Santa Anita for her.

"She's really an amazon-type horse. She's a bit of a steamroller, really. Once she gets rolling she's really hard to stop. She's happy and healthy here at San Luis Rey and we're really enjoying one another."

Astra's career record stands at eight victories and one third from 11 starts, with earnings of $620,424. The 5-year-old mare's most notable triumphs came in this year's Beverly Hills H. (gr. I) and Santa Barbara H. (gr. II), as well as in last year's Gamely Breeders' Cup S. (gr. I) and Jenny Wiley S. (gr. III).

De Seroux currently has about 50 horses in her care at San Luis Rey Downs, including grade I winner Startac, multiple group III winner Agol Lac, grade III winner Until Sundown and promising allowance winner Azeri.

"Startac came out of his last race in good order and we'll be looking toward the distance grass series at Santa Anita for him," De Seroux said of the son of Theatrical, who finished unplaced in the Nov. 25 Hollywood Derby (gr. I). The sophomore worked four furlongs in :47 4/5, handily, at San Luis Rey Downs on Thursday.

"Azeri is great," De Seroux said of the undefeated daughter of Jade Hunter. The 3-year-old filly won her first allowance condition by three lengths at Hollywood Park on closing day. "She's our Barbie doll. She doesn't even know there's bad in the world; she's never had a moment's scare. I could look at the (Dec. 29) La Brea S. (gr. I) for her, but I think she's the type of filly who could develop into a Breeders' Cup-type filly so I think we'll take it one step at a time and I'll avail myself to the allowance conditions at Santa Anita for her for the time being."

Until Sundown, a 3-year-old by Smart Strike owned by San Gabriel Investments, will start in the Malibu S. (gr. I) on opening day at Santa Anita December 26, De Seroux said. He won the Affirmed S. (gr. III) at Hollywood Park this past summer and has not started since finishing sixth in the September 23 Super Derby (gr. I) at Louisiana Downs. He was also on the San Luis Rey Downs worktab Thursday, logging a half-mile in :47 3/5 handily.

Sultan Al Kabeer's two-time French group III winner Agol Lac, the third-place finisher in the Nov. 11 Steinlen H. at Hollywood Park in what was his second start off a year layoff, will run next in the Dec. 30 San Gabriel H. (gr. II). The five-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Gulch went six furlongs in 1:13 2/5, handily.

Other runners De Seroux is excited about starting at the upcoming Santa Anita meet are two undefeated South American imports -- Refine from Argentina and Total Impact from Chile -- and promising maiden winner Checkpoint Charlie, who is probably best known as a half-brother to dual Horse of the Year Cigar. The 4-year-old colt, who is unraced since breaking his maiden over the turf at Hollywood Park July 1, worked a bullet six furlongs in 1:11 4/5, handily, Thursday.

"Checkpoint Charlie is training great," De Seroux said. "I think he's going to have a really big year."