10/07/2004 11:00PM

Trainer saves 'A to Z' for herself

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In the days after A to the Z finished a game second in an allowance race at Del Mar on Aug. 27, trainer Paula Capestro's phone seemed to be ringing constantly.

"People kept saying, 'Is the horse for sale?' " Capestro said.

Not wanting to sell the 4-year-old A to the Z on behalf of owner Darel Ray, Capestro and her husband, Andy, decided to buy the gelding for an undisclosed sum.

"I was going to lose him," Paula Capestro said. "I wanted a nice horse. I'm hoping I can improve him a bit."

The Capestros will learn where A to the Z stands amid the California-bred ranks next Saturday when he starts in the $175,000 California Cup Mile on turf at Santa Anita.

The Mile is one of the toughest races on a 10-race program dedicated to statebreds. The richest race is the $250,000 Classic, for 3-year-olds and up, over 1 1/8 miles on the main track.

The Mile is led by Stage Player, the winner of four consecutive starts and six of his last seven. He won the Claiming Crown Emerald at Canterbury Park in July and the California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows last month. Other probable starters are defending champion Lennyfromalibu, Black Bart, Intuit, and Red Warrior.

"Stage Player is probably one of the toughest horses in there," Capestro said.

A to the Z is the rare horse who has started in four American time zones this year. He began the year in the Mountain time zone, at Sunland Park in New Mexico, where he won the Sunland Park Handicap in April. In June, A to the Z finished third in the Dallas Turf Cup Handicap, his only start in the Central zone.

A month later, A to the Z went east and finished sixth of 10 in the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap. The second-place finish at Del Mar marks his only start in California.

This year has been A to the Z's best season by far, with earnings of $127,612. Overall, he has won 3 of 17 starts and $144,283, an accomplished career considering that he started in claiming races in his first four starts and was purchased for only $5,000 as a yearling. Bred by Sentinel Thoroughbred Farms, A to the Z has changed hands several times in his career.

By Benchmark, A to the Z is out of Green Again, who won 17 of 72 starts and was stakes placed. Green Again is the dam of Fade to Blue, the winner of the California Cup Starter Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf last year.

Paula Capestro has 40 horses in training at San Luis Rey Downs in San Diego County, some of whom are layups for other trainers. She also has 40 horses at a farm in Ohio that are campaigned at Mountaineer Race Track in West Virginia.

She is hoping that A to the Z can be a reliable starter in statebred stakes in coming months, and has big expectations for Saturday's race.

"I think he's capable of beating those horses," Capestro said.

Tizbud back after year layoff

The $250,000 Classic features the past two winners of the race - Calkins Road and Tizbud. Trained by John Sadler, Tizbud has not started since the 2003 California Cup last November. Other probable starters are Anziyan Royalty, Commander's Flag, Excess Summer, and Kedington.

The $125,000 California Cup Juvenile will not include Swiss Lad, the winner of the Cavonnier Stakes on Sept. 30 and the third-place finisher in the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 8.

Trainer Jeff Mullins said Swiss Lad has suffered a fractured hind leg and will be sidelined for a year.