08/03/2003 11:00PM

Longshot Taste of Paradise wins SD Cap

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DEL MAR, Calif. - After losing a shoe in a sprint stakes at Bay Meadows in June and being unruly in the gate at Hollywood Park last month, Taste of Paradise kept the theatrics to the running of Sunday's $250,000 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

Sent off as the longest shot in the field, Taste of Paradise led throughout the Grade 2 San Diego, holding off a late run from Gondolieri. Reba's Gold closed from seventh to finish third.

Joey Franco, the 2-1 favorite seeking his fourth consecutive stakes win, was rank on the first turn. He faded from third in the final quarter-mile to finish last.

Taste of Paradise ($76.80) was ridden by Victor Espinoza and ran 1 1-16 miles in 1:42.62.

Taste of Paradise set an honest pace of 22.81 and 45.79 seconds, leading by a half-length on the backstretch over Western Pride. On the final turn, Western Pride was no longer in contention, leaving Taste of Paradise with a three-length lead in midstretch.

Gondolieri, who was in trouble on both turns, made an eye-catching move late, but lost by three-quarters of a length.

Taste of Paradise, 4, has won 3 of 9 starts and $252,360 for owners Keith Abrahams and David Bloom and trainer John Sadler. Second in the El Cajon Stakes here last summer, Taste of Paradise was sidelined last winter with sore shins. The San Diego was his fourth start of 2003.

The race was reduced to eight runners after the early scratches of Daunting and Publication and the withdrawal of Primerica in the warm-ups.