06/29/2002 12:00AM

Astra victorious in Beverly Hills

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Astra left everything to the last moment in major stakes at Hollywood Park this summer.

On May 27, Astra closed furiously to catch Starine in the Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap. On Saturday, Astra inherited the lead in early stretch and held off an impressive rally from Peu a Peu to win the $250,000 Beverly Hills Handicap for the second consecutive year.

The victory gave Astra her third consecutive stakes win of 2002 for the Allen Paulson Living Trust and trainer Laura de Seroux. The Grade 1 Bevery Hills could have resulted in a loss for the 6-year-old Astra, the 124-pound highweight. Peu a Peu, who carried 116 pounds, made up four lengths in the final quarter-mile under jockey Patrick Valenzuela to miss by a neck.

"Astra started to dawdle," de Seroux said. "She thought her job was done."

In the first half of the race, Astra was second to Snowflake, who led by as many as seven lengths through fractions of 23.86 and 47.54 seconds.

Snowflake faltered in early stretch, leaving Astra in front by a length in midstretch.

Peu a Peu rallied from seventh in the field of eight fillies and mares to reach contention in early stretch. She got close to Astra but could not take the lead. Asta finished 1 1-4 miles on turf in 1:58.54. She has won 11 of 15 starts and $1,238,424.

"When she saw that other filly, she reacclerated," de Seroux said.

"That's the first time she's made the lead that early and had another one come at her."

Crazy Ensign, who was fifth early, finished third, followed by Canzone, Blushing Bride, Racene, Snowflake, and Karsavina.

Peu a Peu, a German-bred filly, was making her second start in the U.S., following a victory in the Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap at Bay Meadows on May 18.

"She made a good run at her," Valenzuela said. "I think we can turn the tables next time."