08/07/2003 12:00AM

Bonus Pack wins a close one in Escondido


DEL MAR, Calif. - After losing five times by a neck or less in his career, Bonus Pack finally won a close race on Wednesday, rallying from off the pace to score his first stakes win on turf in the $81,625 Escondido Handicap at Del Mar.

Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Bonus Pack ($11.60) stalked the pace to the final turn, took the lead in the final furlong and fought off a stern challenge from Mont Saint Michel to win the marathon by a half-length. Asong For Billy, the 5-2 favorite, finished third in the field of nine.

Bonus Pack finished 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:12.50.

The victory was a relief to owner Leonard Lavin and trainer Tom Proctor who have watched Bonus Pack, 5, lose close finishes against maidens, in allowance races and stakes, the $100,000 Black Tie Affair Handicap at Arlington Park in May.

"He's friendly," Proctor said. "He likes horses. He runs up there and wants to visit."

The Escondido was restricted to non-winners of a first-place purse of $50,000 at a mile or over this year. Bonus Pack has won 7 of 29 starts and $438,375.

The Escondido was the gelding's ninth start on turf and first since a ninth-place finish at Gulfstream Park in February 2002. In two of those turf races, he finished second by a nose.

"We always thought he'd like the turf," Proctor said. "He's got a stride for it, so maybe he'll be all right."