04/21/2004 11:00PM

Captain Squire a lone danger

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - For handicappers and horsemen, Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile boils down to a simple question: Can anyone catch Captain Squire?

The tactics for the race are equally simple. Captain Squire will go for the lead. He will be the target for six rivals as he sets the pace in the one-mile turf race. If he's not challenged early, he may be able to romp as he did in his last race, an $80,000 claimer at one mile over the turf course at Santa Anita.

Entering a multiple stakes winner with a bankroll of more than $700,000 in a claimer, even for $80,000, seems risky, but the payoff Saturday could be worth the risk trainer Jeff Mullins took when he ran Captain Squire in that March 19 race.

"We wanted him to make the lead in a race," Mullins said. "At that point, we didn't care [if he got claimed]. We just wanted him to win."

Captain Squire set fast yet seemingly comfortable fractions for him, going the opening quarter in 22.80 seconds, the opening half in 45.05, and six furlongs in 1:08.91. He won in 1:33.45.

He was unchallenged the entire trip. The same could happen Saturday, although Laidlow and Motel Staff have shown early speed.

Captain Squire's primary rival - and the possible favorite in the race - is Singletary, who showed speed last year as a 3-year-old but has run as a stalker in his two starts at 4. He won the Thunder Road Handicap at Santa Anita and was second in the Grade 2 Kilroe Handicap there, both races at one mile, while earning triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in each.

Don Chatlos, Singletary's trainer, acknowledges Captain Squire's pace advantage and doesn't plan to contest the lead. Chatlos said he also doesn't want to let Captain Squire get too far in front.

"He can do anything," Chatlos said of Singletary. "He has enough tactical speed. We can put him wherever we want. We've gotten him to relax more this year."

Defending champion Ninebanks, making his first start since last October, is not a speedball, but he, too, has shown tactical speed in the past.

"He's been working decent," regular rider Ron Warren Jr. said. "He runs better sometimes when he's fresh, and he may show a bit more speed."

"Pace makes the race" is an old racing axiom, and it will be on display Saturday. Unchallenged on the lead, Captain Squire can win, but he may not be able to shake loose enough to beat Singletary.