10/14/2004 12:00AM

Fast pace should set up A to the Z


ARCADIA, Calif. - The post position draw for Saturday's $175,000 California Cup Mile at Santa Anita did not help A to the Z. The 4-year-old A to the Z is stuck on the outside in an outstanding field of 11.

The post may seem bad, but the tactics of the race could work in favor of A to the Z.

A closer, may be in a strong position if top contenders Black Bart, Lennyfromalibu, and Stage Player take their customary positions at the front and set a quick pace. By the time the field reaches the stretch, A to the Z could be ideally placed.

There certainly should be a strong pace in the Mile, run on turf.

The front-running Stage Player has been brilliant in recent starts, winning the Claiming Crown Emerald at Canterbury Park in July, an optional claimer against open company at Del Mar in August, and the California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows on Sept. 6.

Black Bart led throughout the Khaled Stakes at Hollywood Park in April, but has only one win in four subsequent starts. He was fifth behind Stage Player at Bay Meadows.

Lennyfromalibu was a 25-1 outsider when he won the 2003 Mile. He got away with slow fractions that day, but trainer Barry Abrams does not expect the same circumstances on Saturday.

"We'll let him run as far as he can go and see if he can do it like he did last year," Abrams said. "He runs his best races on the front end. The race came up a little tougher than I thought it would be."

A to the Z carries 118 pounds, five fewer than Stage Player and three less than Lennyfromalibu. Co-owned and trained by Paula Capestro, A to the Z finished a game second in an optional claimer against open company at Del Mar on Aug. 27 in his most recent start.

"He's coming into it like a monster," Capestro said. "A break of six weeks would have been perfect, but it's been almost two months."

Black Bart, who was assigned 120 pounds, is trying for his fifth stakes win of the year. Claimed for $16,000 last December at Hollywood Park by Thomas Metzger and trainer Troy Bainum, Black Bart is winless in three starts since winning the Quicken Tree Stakes for statebreds over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Hollywood Park in June. Bainum argues that Black Bart ran the best race of his career when he finished a troubled fourth in the restricted Brubaker Handicap over 1 1/16 miles on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 20. In the California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows, Black Bart may have come back too soon.

"I think he bounced in the race at Bay Meadows," Bainum said.

Stage Player will be favored, and jockey Tyler Baze expects to have a handful - and win.

"He'll run off with you," Baze said. "He'll lug in a little and that's the tough part. He's fine until the top of the lane."

By then, Stage Player could be comfortably in front, or part of a memorable stretch run.

The field

California Cup Mile
Purse: $175,000; 1 mile (turf)

1Sea HarborG.F. Almeida11515-1
2NinebanksM. Pedroza1198-1
3Red WarriorM. Smith11330-1
4Hemet ThoughtG. Gomez11612-1
5Skywalker RedG. Stevens11420-1
6Black BartS. Gann1205-1
7Stage PlayerT. Baze1235-2
8American All StarR.R. Douglas11430-1
9LennyfromalibuD. Flores1213-1
10Super StrutC. Nakatani11512-1
11A to the ZV. Espinoza1186-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly