06/19/2001 11:00PM

High-kicking Astra is ready

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Wednesday morning, trainer Simon Bray was still nursing a sore right thigh, courtesy of a kick from Astra after she became spooked last Sunday while walking at Bray's Hollywood Park barn.

The pain was starting to dissipate, but the bruise was producing an unusual mix of colors.

"It kind of ranges from a deep purple to a Kentucky blue with a little red in the middle," Bray said. "There's an imprint of the toe grab on my thigh."

Astra, who starts in Sunday's $200,000 Beverly Hills Handicap, was momentarily distracted by a horse acting up on the other side of a yard separating two stables.

She was not hurt, said Bray, who suffered the worst in the incident.

"I'll take it if it means winning a Grade 1," Bray said.

Owned by the Allen Paulson Living Trust, Astra is a leading contender for the Grade 1 Beverly Hills, run over 1 1/4 miles on turf. She won the Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita on April 14, but was deliberately held out of the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap on May 26 to have more time to prepare for Sunday's race.

The Beverly Hills will be the rubber match between Astra and Happyanunoit, who is likely to be favored. Astra beat Happyanunoit in the 2000 Gamely Handicap, but was fourth to Happyanunoit in the 2000 Beverly Hills and then disqualified to fifth for causing interference.

Bray was pleased with Astra's six-furlong workout in 1:15.40 last Sunday and the way she galloped

1 1/4 miles on Wednesday.

"I'm not overly aggressive on her training," Bray said. "Before the Santa Barbara, she was like this. After watching her work and the way she came back, she's really on her game. She's in top shape."

The Beverly Hills field is expected to be small. Aside from Astra and Happyanunoit, the probables include High Walden, Jig, Kalpyso Katie, and Polaire.

Crazy Ensign, an allowance race winner on May 18, will not start in the Beverly Hills. Trainer Richard Mandella said the 5-year-old Crazy Ensign has been diagnosed with a stress fracture of her pelvis and will miss four months of training. Aside from the win in the allowance race, Crazy Ensign was fifth in the Grade 3 Wilshire Handicap on April 29. In 1999 and 2000, she won Group 1 races in Argentina.

Tiznow resumes jogging

A day after passing medical tests on his back, Tiznow resumed jogging at Santa Anita on Wednesday, but faces a difficult task to defend his title in the Breeders' Cup Classic, trainer Jay Robbins said.

On Tuesday, Tiznow underwent a nuclear scan on his back, which has bothered him since late April and interrupted his training. The 2000 Horse of the Year, Tiznow will be treated with a muscle relaxant that Dr. Rick Arthur has prescribed, Robbins said.

Robbins said Tiznow's progress in the next few weeks will be pivotal for his possible return to the races in the late summer or fall. If the progress is interrupted again, retirement is a possibility.

"It's getting really difficult," Robbins said. "It's a tight schedule now."

'Captain" still possible for Gold Cup

Captain Steve jogged at Santa Anita on Wednesday, his first day of exercise since finishing second to

15-1 Guided Tour in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

Trainer Bob Baffert said the 4-year-old Captain Steve remains a possibility for the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on July 1 despite the two-week break between races.

"I'll know this weekend," Baffert said. "If he's really doing well, he works on Tuesday. Right now, I'm really leaning toward it. The signs could change. He'll have to be ready."

The Stephen Foster was Captain Steve's first start since he won the $6 million Dubai World Cup in the Middle East on March 24.

"It looked like that race tightened him down," Baffert said. "Guided Tour ran the race of his life."

* Jamaican Rum, who finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the California Sires Stakes on June 9, will start in Saturday's $60,000 Manila Stakes, trainer Jim Cassidy said. The Manila is a restricted race run over a mile on turf. Jamaican Rum is using the race as a prep to the $500,000 Swaps Stakes on July 15. Other probables for the Manila Stakes include Macabe and Romanceishope, who won the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for California-breds on April 28.