08/15/2002 12:00AM

Cup preview in Beverly D.


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Ten weeks hence, what transpires here at Arlington Saturday in the Beverly D. surely will come under the microscope when Breeders' Cup handicappers sit down to analyze the Filly and Mare Turf.

Such intense scrutiny will occur not only because the Grade 1 Beverly D. is a perennial key race within the filly-mare turf division, but for at least two other obvious reasons: the Breeders' Cup will be run at Arlington Park Oct. 26, and divisional leaders such as Astra, Golden Apples, and England's Legend will stage a pivotal preview here Saturday in the 14th running of the $700,000 Beverly D.

Astra, the likely favorite as the winner of three straight major events in California, returns to the scene of the most disappointing race of her career, a last-place finish in last year's Beverly D. Since coming under the care of trainer Laura de Seroux soon after that race, the Theatrical mare has flourished, and de Seroux believes the Beverly D. could be a perfect table-setter for the Breeders' Cup.

"You can't really put too much in the Beverly D. last year, because she came out of it with a foot abscess," said de Seroux. "This year, her performances have been superb, and she's coming into this race very well. We're looking forward to Saturday."

England's Legend, who crushed the opposition last year over a soft turf course, will be trying to become the first repeat winner of the race. Trainer Christophe Clement conceded that the probability of firm ground would play more in favor of Astra but hopes England's Legend would move up off a recent comeback victory in the Modesty.

Golden Apples, a remarkably consistent Irish-bred filly, is another major player, having defeated Astra in the Santa Ana in March. Pat Valenzuela will ride Golden Apples, making it the first time anyone but Garrett Gomez has ridden her since she came to the United States.

The rest of the six-horse field, which matches the smallest in race history (1997), consists of Tates Creek, the Bobby Frankel-trained mare who has won six of nine career starts; Volga, a late-running Irish-bred trained by Clement; and Golden Silca, a British mare who probably will be the longest shot in her North American debut.

Volga, said Clement, "is one of the freshest horses in the field, along with Astra. The other horses have all run in the last three weeks. Volga could be dangerous because she does well with time between races."

The 1 3/16-mile Beverly D., named for the late wife of Arlington's chairman Richard Duchossois, was an instant success when its purse was raised to $500,000 in 1989. A parade of standouts have won the race, including Eclipse champions Flawlessly (1993), Hatoof (1994), and Possibly Perfect (1995).

The Beverly D. leads off the Festival Three, a $1-minimum pick three wager. The Beverly D. is carded as race seven, with post time of 3:24 p.m. Central.