Improving Avenue de France leads Santa Anita's G3 Astra

Improving Avenue de France leads Santa Anita's G3 Astra
Photo: Santa Anita Park

Trainer Leonard Powell’s improving Avenue de France leads a wide open field of nine older fillies and mares in Sunday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Astra Stakes, to be contested at a marathon mile and on half on the Santa Anita turf.

An impressive first condition allowance winner from well off the pace at 1 1/8 miles on turf on Dec. 26, France-bred Avenue de France will be making her first stakes start in what will be her seventh stateside start in the Astra. A close third in two previous turf allowances on Nov. 26 and Oct. 31, 4-year-old Avenue de France has an improving form cycle and recency in her corner as she approaches the Astra with regular rider Drayden Van Dyke.

Unbeaten in a pair of mile turf races in her native France at age 2, Avenue de France, who is owned by the Benowitz Family Trust, Convergence Stable, Madaket Stables LLC, Wonder Stables and Mathilde Powell, will be trying 1 1/2 miles for the first time.

A fast finishing third in the Red Carpet Handicap (G3) at 1 3/8 miles over the Del Mar turf Nov. 26, John Sadler’s English-bred Quick may well go favored in the Astra as she seeks her first graded stakes victory. Off the board just once in eight stateside starts, this 5-year-old mare seems primed for another big effort at a distance she should handle well. Owned by Hronis Racing LLC, she’ll be ridden for the third consecutive time by Umberto Rispoli.

French-bred Hermaphrodite, although winless in two stateside turf allowances for Sadler, was well supported on both occasions and retains the services of Joel Rosario following a close fifth place finish as the 2-1 favorite in the opening day allowance won by Avenue de France.

A 1 1/2-mile maiden winner in her third start at age 3 in France, Hermaphrodite was competitive in several other French races at distances ranging from a 1 1/4 miles to 1 9/16 miles on turf. Owned by Hronis Racing LLC, the 6-year-old bay mare is 14: 1-4-1 overall as she seeks her first graded stakes win at a distance she should have no problem with.

Perhaps the biggest question mark in the race is last year’s winner, Ms Peintour. Owned by Samantha Siegel’s Jay Em Ess Stable, this 6-year-old mare by Paynter has been idle since finishing 10th and last in an ungraded stakes going 1 3/8 miles over the Del Mar turf on Aug. 16, which was her second start of the year. Off at 13-1 in last year’s Astra, Ms Peintour was attentive to the pace with Brice Blanc and drew off to an impressive two length score.

With the first-time services of Flavien Prat and a respectable overall mark of 14: 3-1-2, a lack of recency is the biggest concern for Ms Peintour as she faces eight rivals at a mile and one half off the bench.

2021 Astra Stakes (G3)

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