08/02/2001 12:00AM

Cagney acts like a star in Escondido


DEL MAR, Calif. - Cagney, a Group 1 winner in South America last year, won his first American stakes in the restricted $83,975 Escondido Handicap at Del Mar on Wednesday.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Cagney ($5.80) split horses in midstretch and won by a half-length, finishing 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:14.19 before an on-track crowd of 11,014.

The Escondido, restricted to non-winners of a first-place purse of $50,000 at a mile or over this year, was Cagney's first win since scoring in a Group 1 at a mile on turf in Brazil in June 2000.

Trained by Richard Mandella, Cagney was at the back of the field for the first mile, tracking pacesetters Alvo Certo, who led at the start, and Casino King, who took over with five-eighths remaining. Shelter Cove took the lead from Casino King turning for home, but was caught by Cagney who rallied between Shelter Cove and Continental Red.

"This is the best race he's run and he's improved each time," said assistant trainer Gary Mandella said. "We've run him a couple of times at a mile and a couple of times at 10 or 11 furlongs, and I think the longer races will be in

his future."

Continental Red held second, finishing a length in front of Shelter Cove.

Devon Deputy, the 8-5 favorite, finished fifth in the field of seven.

Cagney has won 4 of 8 starts and $95,991. He may start in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap over the same course and distance on Aug. 25, Gary Mandella said.