02/12/2002 12:00AM

Dowd finds good spot for Astrid

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Trainer John Dowd was looking for an easy spot to get Astrid started on her 2002 campaign and may have found one in the third-level optional claiming and allowance race that is the feature on Thursday's 10-race program at Gulfstream Park.

Astrid has not started since the Grade 2 Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks on July 28, when she chipped her left front ankle when finishing fourth behind eventual Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine. But Astrid, whom Dowd trains for Bobby Hurley's Devil Eleven Stable, has trained well for her 4-year-old debut.

"I'm really happy with the way she's doing," Dowd said. "She's going to be better around two turns, but she's ready, and she can sprint. She ran 1:09-and-change winning off a layoff last summer at Monmouth Park."

Astrid drew the rail - a post that can sometimes be tricky in sprint races at this track - in the field of eight older fillies and mares.

"If I had my choice I rather be in five, six, or seven," Dowd said. "But she won from the one hole in the first start of her career and she's got enough speed to put herself in good position."

Astrid is a Maryland-bred and Dowd's long-term goals with her this season are the Maryland Million and, he hopes, the Breeders' Cup. "She probably would have been the favorite in her respective races each of the last two years on Maryland Million Day," Dowd said. "Unfortunately, she never made it to October either season. Hopefully, we'll be able to get her through the whole year without any problems this season."

Edgar Prado, who has been the hottest rider in the local jockey colony this past week, will be aboard Astrid for the first time on Thursday.

Should Astrid come up a bit short, Tampa Bay Downs invader Flashing Lil or the speedy Honey Eyed might be the most likely ones to spring the upset.

Flashing Lil finished second in Tampa's Minaret and Manatee stakes in January, and earned a career best 95 Beyer Speed figure last fall winning a second-level allowance race at Churchill Downs.

A slow start from the rail and traffic troubles down the backstretch compromised Honey Eyed's chances under similar conditions on Jan. 12 in her first start off a five-month hiatus. Honey Eyed won Philadelphia Park's Roamin Rachel Stakes during the spring of 2001 and has finished worse than second just once in four starts over the Gulfstream Park strip.

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