09/02/2003 12:00AM

Clean trip has 'Joey' a winner


DEL MAR, Calif. - It wasn't the competition nor the distance that concerned trainer Darrell Vienna. All he wanted for Joey Franco was an outside draw for Monday's $250,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap. When Joey Franco landed post 6 for the Grade 2 race, Vienna was elated. "I was so happy with the draw, because it's hard to get trapped," he said.

Joey Franco reacted poorly to getting sawed off going into the first turn of the San Diego Handicap here on Aug. 3. On Monday, benefiting from that outside draw, Joey Franco got a clean trip. He stalked the early leaders while wide, kicked clear at the top of the stretch, and drew away for a two-length victory in the Labor Day feature before 24,497 fans.

Reba's Gold rallied for second, with the late-running Grey Memo another 1 1/2 lengths back in third. Taste of Paradise, who had won the San Diego, was fourth, and the 6-5 favorite, Captain Squire, faded to sixth in the field of seven.

Joey Franco covered one mile on a fast main track in 1:35.70.

The San Diego was an aberration in an otherwise impressive streak for Joey Franco. He had won three straight before the San Diego, so he has now won four times in his last five starts.

"In his last race, the winner came over abruptly. He took up and panicked," Vienna said, referring to Joey Franco's reaction. "He tried to get out, and then racing was no longer on his mind."

He was focused on Monday. Joey Franco ($11.60) relaxed patiently while kept outside by jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who was winning his third race on the card.

"He was stuck behind horses last time, but this time he got outside and relaxed," Valenzuela said.

Joey Franco, a California-bred 4-year-old colt by Avenue of Flags bred and owned by Jerry Frankel, has now won eight times in 16 starts

Centerofattention prevails

Earlier on Monday's card, Centerofattention held off Summer Wind Dancer to win the $125,000 Solana Beach Handicap by a half-length. Ardum Relaunch was a nose farther back in third, with 8-5 favorite Super High, the race's defending champion, fourth.

The Solana Beach is restricted to California-bred fillies and mares. Centerofattention ($18), trained by Eric Kruljac for owners Dennis and Norine Greiner, was timed in 1:35.01 for one mile on firm turf. Kent Desormeaux was up.