08/16/2002 11:00PM

Golden Apples over Astra

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Golden Apples gave owner Gary Tanaka his second victory in the last three runnings of the Beverly D. after getting a great trip and scoring by three-quarters of a length over favored Astra in the Grade 1 event.

Golden Apples, trained by Ben Cecil, returned $6.80 as second choice in a field of six fillies and mares. Tanaka won the 2000 Beverly D. with Snow Polina.

The victory by Golden Apples also brought a measure of redemption to winning jockey Pat Valenzuela, who nine years ago was disconsolate after finishing first in the Beverly D. aboard Let's Elope, only to be disqualified and placed third.

"This makes up for then," said Valenzuela. The rider said "I still feel bad" for Let's Elope's trainer, Ron McAnally, and owners Dennis and Margaret Marks "because I still think the number shouldn't have come down. But for me, this is great."

Golden Apples, an Irish-bred 4-year-old by Pivotal, was away last in the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D., but soon was in the midst of a compact field. Leaving the backstretch, Valenzuela had her in a perfect outside position to go after front-running England's Legend, and Golden Apples responded with a strong run that gave her the second Grade 1 stakes victory in a 12-race career. The winner finished in 1:54.86 over firm turf.

"We've always thought she was an exceptional filly, the best filly-mare turf horse in the country," said Cecil. Three races back, "she had a massive cyst removed from her throat. I really don't think she's been 100 percent in her last three races, so there's a lot of improvement to come."

Astra, the 6-5 favorite under Kent Desormeaux, finished a neck before England's Legend, who led through fractions of 24.94 seconds, 48.66 and 1:11.90 when bidding to become the first repeat winner in the 14-year history of the Beverly D. Volga was another half-length back in fourth, followed by Golden Silca and Tates Creek.

Cecil said Golden Apples would run in the Yellow Ribbon at Oak Tree before returning to Arlington for the Oct. 26 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

In other Saturday stakes action:

* Tonyspal Craig gamely held off a late bid from Attack the Books to post a head victory in the $63,500 Forward Pass Stakes.

Tonyspal Craig, now a winner in four of five lifetime starts, was the lone remaining starter from a three-horse entry for trainer Louie Roussel. Owned in partnership by his trainer and Team Canonie, the winner returned $7.40 after finishing seven furlongs in 1:22.79 over a fast main track. Elvis Trujillo was aboard.

Richest Half finished third, another 2 1/2 lengths back in a field of six 3-year-olds.

* There's Zealous ($9), ridden by Kent Desormeaux, ran the fastest mile of the Arlington meet (1:33.76) when he drew off to a six-length score in the $62,750 Cigar Stakes.

Slider, the even-money favorite, finished second, a length ahead of Mountain General in a field of five older horses.

There's Zealous, owned by the Jay Em Ess Stable and trained by Paul McGee, won for the sixth time in 21 career starts.

* Smoke Chaser ($6.60), ridden by E.T. Baird, cruised to a three-length victory in the $63,500 Meafara Stakes after favored Extended View was away to a poor start in the six-furlong race for fillies and mares.