04/20/2002 12:00AM

Astra victorious in Santa Barbara

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Astra became the first repeat winner of the $250,000 Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita on Sunday, scoring one the most convincing wins of her career.

Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Astra had an ideal trip in a slowly run race.

For the first time, Desormeaux kept Astra on the rail behind the pace of 26.09 and 50.82 seconds set by Polaire.

Turning for home, Astra circled Polaire and took the lead. Golden Apples, the stronger half of a the 9-10 entry with Polaire, was third at the top of the stretch but never threatened Astra. Golden Apples had to wait for room on the second turn, attempted to rally along the rail, but was switched to the outside in midstretch by jockey Garrett Gomez. She finished two lengths behind Astra, who finished 1 1-4 miles on turf in 2:01.48.

Polaire held third, followed by Blue Moon, Old Money and Desiraes My Candy.

Golden Apples nearly missed the race due to a bruised foot, but was pronounced ready by trainer Ben Cecil early Saturday.

Astra's win in the 54th running of the Grade 2 Santa Barbara ended a two-race losing streak, the longest of her career. Owned by Allen Paulson Living Trust, Astra has won 9 of 13 starts, including six stakes, and $788,424.

In her first start of 2002, Astra was third behind Golden Apples in the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap on March 23. Her long-term goal is the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Arlington Park in October.

"I didn't want to overdue it first time out, but come forward for a race like this," trainer Laura de Seroux said. "I want her to be ready for the Breeders' Cup."