10/14/2004 12:00AM

Green Team needs his best game


ARCADIA, Calif. - Green Team scored a mild surprise when he captured last year's California Cup Sprint, but he should rule the favorite Saturday in this year's version of the $150,000, six-furlong race at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

The Sprint is one of the day's highlights. It attracted a full field of 12, and if Green Team does not run his absolute best, there are several eager contenders who could claim this race.

, who will carry top weight of 120 pounds, comes off one of the best efforts of his career. He led from start to finish, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 110, to capture the California Sprint Championship Handicap last month at Bay Meadows. Green Team finished second in that race last year before capturing the Cal Cup Sprint.

That last victory ended a seven-race losing streak and was the first for Green Team since the Cal Cup.

Areyoutalkintome finished just a neck behind Green Team at Bay Meadows. He has improved significantly in his last two starts, and has never finished worse than second in four starts at Santa Anita.

The 3-year-old Cheiron is an intriguing play. He fires fresh, runs well at Santa Anita, and for months has been pointed to this race by trainer Kristin Mulhall.

"He bled really bad in his last race at Hollywood Park," Mulhall said, referring to the Affirmed Handicap on June 19. "That's been his problem. We've found a pattern with him - the first time he runs at a track, he runs well, but the second time he gets worked up and bleeds. It's all nerves. Maybe we'll keep him lightly raced for the rest of his career.

"We've played around. We've fed him a special diet, tried everything. He's just a nervous horse. He's never bled once in the morning. After what happened at Hollywood Park, we just decided to give him the summer off and come into this fresh. He's training super."

El Don, another 3-year-old, was an impressive winner against allowance runners when he returned from a seven-month layoff at Del Mar on July 26. But he came back less than two weeks later and faded to finish fourth of five in a race won by Areyoutalkintome.

"We ran him back really quick. I think he bounced," said his trainer, Marty Jones. "It can happen when you come back too quick, especially after a layoff. He's been training really well over at Hollywood."

Ride and Shine often settles for minor awards, but he did finish in front of sprint star Pico Central - before being disqualified - in a third-level allowance sprint at Santa Anita earlier this year.

Old pro Full Moon Madness seems well past his prime, but the 9-year-old warrior was claimed out of his last start by trainer Doug O'Neill. Full Moon Madness is winless in four starts this year, but has finished in the money each time. He has won five times in 11 starts on this main track.

Arizona-based Palmerton returned from a lengthy layoff and narrowly lost a stakes race at Turf Paradise last weekend. His consistency makes him a threat for the exotics, but racing again so quickly after a comeback race raises the risk of regression.

The field

California Cup Sprint
Purse: $150,000; 6 furlongs

1PalmertonT. Baze11720-1
2AreyoutalkintomeC. Nakatani1173-1
3BonfanteG. Gomez11315-1
4El DonG. Stevens1148-1
5Ride and ShineD. Flores11715-1
6Fairly CraftyK. John11520-1
7Shadow of IllinoisJ. Validivia Jr.11430-1
8Green TeamR. Baze1205-2
9Full Moon MadnessM. Smith11710-1
10Only the BestJ. Santiago11610-1
11CheironV. Espinoza1184-1
12Bewitching BartokD. Cohen11130-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly