Updated on 09/16/2011 8:01AM

Same Beverly D., but renewed Astra

Benoit & Associates
After last year's Beverly D. debacle, Astra returns in sharp form with a new trainer, Laura de Seroux.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - As awesome as England's Legend was in the Beverly D. last year, that's how dreadful Astra was. As England's Legend sped off to a resounding victory, Astra floundered finishing 24 lengths behind as the odds-on favorite.

Therein lies a paradox, because both before and after the 2001 Beverly D., Astra clearly was the better horse.

Although her defeat over a soft Arlington Park turf helped to bring a premature end to her 2001 campaign, Astra is now quite possibly better than ever. When she returns Saturday for the 14th running of the Beverly D., she will do so as the widely acclaimed leader of the filly-mare turf division.

Meanwhile, England's Legend has gone largely unnoticed. After winning the Beverly D. by a stakes-record 7 3/4 lengths, she narrowly lost the Flower Bowl to Lailani, then was badly beaten in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Given a lengthy vacation by trainer Christophe Clement, she returned to action just last month, defeating a moderate field in Arlington's local prep for the Beverly D., the Grade 3 Modesty Handicap.

Now, a year later, Astra and England's Legend are back at Arlington, ready to cross paths again in a race that could prove highly critical for both their careers.

Astra, owned by the Allen Paulson Living Trust, was trained up to the Beverly D. last year by Simon Bray. Now a 6-year-old mare, Astra, by Theatrical, came out of that race, her career-worst defeat, with a foot abscess. Immediately after the race, jockey Kent Desormeaux said he thought the rain-soaked turf course was responsible for why she ran so poorly, but trainer Laura de Seroux said Wednesday from California that course condition had little to do with it.

"I got her the Tuesday after the race, and she had already had the abscess cut out," said de Seroux. "It wasn't until Simon got her home the day after the race that she was lame. When those things are brewing, they can be very subtle."

With so much time lost to the injured foot, Astra was taken out of training to regroup for a 2002 campaign. The results have been impressive. Since finishing third in her return in the Grade 2 Santa Ana in March, she has reeled off consecutive victories in the Grade 2 Santa Barbara, Grade 1 Gamely Breeders' Cup, and Grade 1 Beverly Hills. The last two wins both were by a head.

"Those were heart-stoppers," said de Seroux. "Starine got the jump on her in the Gamely, but Astra just refused to be beaten. Then she got to the lead too soon in the Beverly Hills, and that was against her style. She thought the race was over, but then she saw Peu a Peu and came again to beat her."

The Beverly D., which has been a definitive race within the division since the late Howard Battle persuaded Arlington owner Richard Duchossois to raise the purse to $500,000 in 1989, became the next logical race on Astra's schedule. De Seroux said avoiding a return trip to Chicago just because the mare ran poorly here last year made no sense.

"We're not trying to make any statements about anything," she said. "It's the best race for her, and her recent performances have been superb."

Further cementing the decision to run back in the Beverly D. is that the Breeders' Cup will be held at Arlington three months later. De Seroux said Astra might have one more race before the Oct. 26 Filly and Mare Turf, but "we've kind of been inclined to think this might be enough. We could come back to Chicago with a fresh horse. She trains really hard and really retains her form. So this might be it."

As for England's Legend, the Beverly D. should provide a useful gauge in determining whether Clement should proceed toward the Breeders' Cup with her.

"She's very fresh after the long break," Clement said from Saratoga. "We wanted to bring her back for the [July 4] New York Handicap, but she wasn't ready. Her race there [the Modesty], she was a little bit short and she got tired."

Clement - who said he likely would travel to Chicago for the race, unlike last year, when assistant Nicholas Bachalard deputized for him - agreed that the Beverly D. last year was a watershed effort for England's Legend, a 5-year-old Lure mare owned by Edouard de Rothschild. So of course he would like to see a repeat performance.

"I was hoping she would win last year, but I didn't think she would win by so much," he said. "If it's soft again, we should be very competitive. If not, then we'll all be trying to beat Astra."