06/27/2002 12:00AM

Pace unlikely to stop Astra


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Although Astra will be heavily favored in Saturday's $250,000 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park, there may be some suspense in the late stages of the race.

On May 27, Astra won the Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup Handicap by a head, catching Starine in the final stride under Kent Desormeaux. Starine did not enter the Beverly Hills, and there are no other Grade 1 winners from the United States to challenge Astra, the 124-pound topweight.

Still, Astra is a closer, and with a moderate pace expected in the Beverly Hills Handicap, Astra may have to work in the stretch.

Such a scenario does not concern Astra's trainer, Laura de Seroux, who expects the Beverly Hills Handicap to unfold favorably.

Run over 1 1/4 miles on turf, the Beverly Hills Handicap is at Astra's "ideal distance," de Seroux said.

"She doesn't have to run until the last part," de Seroux said. "She seems to canter along and keep up. Kent has to worry about keeping her in position. It will be a slow pace as it was in the Gamely."

Astra drew post 6 in the Beverly Hills, and spots the other eight entrants eight to 12 pounds. A winner of 10 of 14 starts, Astra is seeking her third consecutive stakes win since joining de Seroux's stable last summer.

"It seems that she's the best she's been since we've had her," de Seroux said.

The biggest threat to Astra is the Bobby Frankel-trained Peu a Peu, a German-bred 4-year-old filly who won the Grade 3 Yerba Buena Breeders' Cup Handicap at Bay Meadows on May 18. Peu a Peu will carry 116 pounds.

The field also includes Snowflake, who was stakes-placed in Europe last year and has won four starts since joining the Ron McAnally barn, and Canzone, a Group 1 winner in Brazil who won an allowance race May 26.

Trained by Eduaro Inda, Canzone beat males in a Group 1 race over 1 1/2 miles on turf in March 2001 in Brazil, and is making her first start in a Grade 1 in this country. Canzone will carry 115 pounds and will be ridden by Goncalino Almeida.

"She was the best filly in Brazil going long," Inda said.

He realizes it will be difficult to beat Astra. "I know we're going against the best filly in America, maybe the world," he said. "She's very impressive. With the right weight spread, maybe we have a chance."

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