01/27/2005 1:00AM

A to the Z shoots for another upset

Benoit & Associates
A to the Z wins the Cal Cup Mile last October at Santa Anita (above), so he clearly likes the course. Among his chief rivals on Saturday is Star Over the Bay.

A to the Z's days as a longshot are over.

After finishing second at 41-1 in the Grade 1 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park on Nov. 27, A to the Z will be a much shorter price in Saturday's $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf for California-breds and Florida-breds at Santa Anita.

Owner-trainer Paula Capestro is banking on something of a home-turf advantage to give A to the Z an extra edge. Last October at Santa Anita, A to the Z scored an impressive victory by 2 1/4 lengths in the California Cup Mile.

A to the Z might well need an intangible like home-turf advantage in the Sunshine Millions Turf, run over 1 1/8 miles.

The race has drawn a strong field, including Continental Red, the millionaire California-bred; G P Fleet, winner of the Grade 3 River City Handicap at Churchill Downs in November; Silver Tree, fifth in the Breeders' Cup Mile last October; Star Over the Bay, the top turf marathoner in California last summer and fall; and Union Place, the winner of the Fort Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 9.

The Sunshine Millions Turf has been a goal for A to the Z since the California Cup. The runner-up finish to the highly regarded Leroidesanimaux in the Citation exceeded expectations of his connections, and left Capestro wondering what could have happened if A to the Z had not been stuck in traffic in early stretch.

"The fact we ran second to that horse was like a win for me," Capestro said. "If we'd have been able to get out of the pack, it could have gone any way. We were held up in traffic and he got a jump on us."

A to the Z's two-month break between starts is not a concern for Capestro, who owns the 5-year-old California-bred gelding with her husband, Andy.

"He's not a heavy horse," she said. "He pretty much keeps himself fit because he's built the way he's built."

A to the Z will likely use his typical closing style on Saturday, which leaves the possibility of traffic problems. Star Over the Bay is expected to lead, while Continental Red, G P Fleet, Silver Tree, and Union Place are best as stalkers.

The Florida-bred Silver Tree has the best recent form in the field.

Owned by Peter Vegso, Silver Tree won the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in July, was second in the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap in August and third in the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile, and then finished three lengths behind Singletary in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

In his last start, Silver Tree finished second by a neck to Host in the Grade 3 Tropical Park Turf Handicap at Calder on Dec. 4.

"He ran a huge race last time and just got nipped at the wire," trainer Bill Mott said. "He had a great trip. The Breeders' Cup was certainly a good race but they outsprinted him."

Mott said the Sunshine Millions Turf distance works in favor of Silver Tree.

"He's probably best at 1 1/16 miles," he said. "A mile and an eighth is probably a tad bit better than a flat mile."

The Turf distance is arguably short of Star Over the Bay's best trip.

Last summer and fall, he won three major turf stakes - the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park over 1 1/2 miles, the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles, and the Clement Hirsch Championship over 1 1/4 miles.

Star Over the Bay, a Florida-bred despite having been based in Southern California, finished last in the Breeders' Cup Turf after leading to the final turn. Unraced since then, Star Over the Bay is thriving, trainer Mike Mitchell said.

"We basically turned him out to freshen him up," Mitchell said. "He's so sharp right now."

Mitchell said he expects Star Over the Bay to be aggressive and tough to catch. That could lead to a massive winner's circle celebration for the partnership that owns the 7-year-old Florida-bred.

Said Mitchell, "When he won the Clement Hirsch, they barely had room for the horse."

The field

Sunshine Millions Turf
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles; turf

1Skywalker Red (CA)K. Desormeaux12220-1
2Running Free (CA)M. Smith12015-1
3Super Strut (CA)G. Gomez12230-1
4A to the Z (CA)V. Espinoza1224-1
5Icy Atlantic (FL)R. Douglas12012-1
6Bob's Proud Moment (FL)D. Flores12030-1
7Union Place (FL)J. Castellano1226-1
8GP Fleet (FL)J. Martinez Jr.1228-1
9Silver Tree (FL)J. Bailey1223-1
10Cheiron (CA)M. Guidry12230-1
11Continental Red (CA)G. Stevens12210-1
12Star Over the Bay (FL)T. Baze1229-2
13Sea Harbor (CA)G. Almeida12230-1
Also Eligible:
14Stormy Roman (FL)M. Guidry12215-1

* Odds by Michael Hammersly
* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. (Eastern), NBC