08/22/2003 12:00AM

Taraval hits right spot in McCabe


SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Sunday's $50,000-added Earlene McCabe Derby at the California State Fair is just the spot trainer Greg Gilchrist has been looking for.

He will enter Taraval in the six-furlong race for Cal-breds, and he goes into the race confident.

"That doesn't mean he'll win, but he has a better chance than the last three times," Gilchrist said.

Taraval will have five rivals, including Standard Setter, the Golden Gate Derby winner who has been on the sidelines with a minor knee injury since the derby on Jan. 11, when he defeated Buddy Gil among others.

Standard Setter has worked well for his comeback for trainer Jeff Bonde, who won this race with Menacing Dennis last year.

Gilchrist is happy Taraval can finally run in a sprint in northern California. Sprint opportunities for stakes 3-year-olds are limited, and Gilchrist had to take to the road in the past with one of his other stakes-winning sprinters, Beyond Brilliant, as a 3-year-old.

After recovering from what Gilchrist called a "broken knee" after running second to Mr. Technique in the Redwood Empire Stakes at Santa Rosa last August, Taraval made the first two starts of his 3-year-old season in Southern California, where he was no match for King Robyn.

"Who knows if you'll win, but I don't see any King Robyns in there," Gilchrist said. "That time at Hollywood Park, my horse ran his eyeballs out, but King Robyn is as nice as any sprinter in California, particularly on the grass."

In his last race, Taraval finished fourth in the six-furlong Ernest Finley at Santa Rosa earlier this month.

"Any horse nominated for this would have been fourth or worse that day," Gilchrist said. "I hated doing it to him, but at least he picked up some purse money, and I'm glad now to have the race in him."

Taraval will be meeting his own age group Sunday.

The race sets up as a rematch between Taraval and Standard Setter, who finished one-two as 2-year-olds in both the Malcolm Anderson Stakes at Bay Meadows and the Everett Nevin-Alameda County Futurity at Pleasanton.

Taraval, who won the first three starts of his career before the loss to Standard Setter's stablemate and eventual California Derby winner Mr. Technique at Santa Rosa, easily handled Standard Setter both times.

Standard Setter had an operation to remove a chip in his left knee after the Pleasanton race. He showed newly found speed in a Dec. 20 prep at Golden Gate Fields, then went wire-to-wire in the Golden Gate Derby before another knee problem sidelined him.