08/29/2003 11:00PM

Taste of Paradise on improve

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The top contenders for Monday's $250,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap arrive at the start under very different circumstances.

Captain Squire needs a win or placing to enhance his chances of gaining a berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Santa Anita in October.

Reba's Gold, who may be favored, is seeking his fourth stakes win in the last year.

Taste of Paradise will try to prove that his 37-1 upset in the San Diego Handicap was not the result of a track bias.

Add Grey Memo, the veteran millionaire; Joey Franco, who had a three-race stakes winning streak stopped in the San Diego; and the longshots Crafty C.T. and Seattle Shamus, and the one-mile handicap has an intriguing mix of runners.

Primerica, expected to run, was not entered because of a temperature.

A length separated Taste of Paradise and Reba's Gold at the finish of the San Diego Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on Aug. 3.

Taste of Paradise led throughout, while Reba's Gold closed from seventh to finish third on what was perceived as a speed-favoring track.

The San Diego was Taste of Paradise's first stakes win, and it came in his ninth start.

"He should be better with the race," trainer John Sadler said.

"I think he's still on the upswing. Even though he's 4, he hasn't had 20 starts."

Reba's Gold finished third in the 2002 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap, losing by a length to Congaree. In his last seven starts, Reba's Gold has won three stakes races, including the Seabiscuit Handicap at Bay Meadows in May.

Trainer Dan Hendricks is hoping that Reba's Gold will benefit from a likely strong pace involving Captain Squire, Taste of Paradise, and Seattle Shamus, the winner of an allowance race on Aug. 3.

He believes Reba's Gold ran a winning race in the San Diego.

"The horse that won was the lead horse," he said. "We came from seventh and made up the most ground. Look at the way the track was playing. Look at the way he ran. I feel like he won it."

Captain Squire finished second to Beau's Town in the Bing Crosby Handicap at six furlongs on July 26. Monday's race is Captain Squire's first start around two turns since he finished third in the West Virginia Derby in August 2002.

"I think he'll make a better router than before," trainer Jeff Mullins said. "He settled down a lot. He was his own worst enemy last year."