12/01/2004 1:00AM

Mandella gets shot at 'Paradise'

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Taste of Paradise will make his first start for Gary Mandella - his fourth trainer in nine months - in Sunday's Vernon Underwood at six furlongs.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For the first 12 starts of his career, Taste of Paradise had just one trainer, John Sadler. Since then, though, he has caromed from barn to barn like a pinball. When he runs in Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park, Taste of Paradise will be racing for his fourth different trainer in nine months.

Taste of Paradise won the San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in 2003 while trained by Sadler, but the dissolution of a partnership was the first reason for Taste of Paradise to move. He made two starts for Jay Robbins in March, ran under Mike Stidham's name when he competed in the Texas Mile at Lone Star in May, then made four starts for Molly Pearson, for whom Taste of Paradise won the Ack Ack Handicap at Hollywood Park in May.

After this past summer at Del Mar, however, Pearson returned to Arizona, and Taste of Paradise was moved by owner David Bloom to trainer Gary Mandella, for whom Taste of Paradise makes his first start in the six-furlong Underwood.

"I'm thrilled with the way he's been training," Mandella said at his Hollywood Park barn on Wednesday morning. "I'm pretty well aware that six furlongs is not his best distance, but you've got to start somewhere. He hasn't run in three months."

Taste of Paradise has not raced since Aug. 15, when he finished fifth in the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap at Del Mar.

"He exited the Pat O'Brien with a pretty bad abscess in a hind foot," Mandella said. "We've gone back and forth with it, but it's good now. It was in his frog. It just had to grow down."

The 5-year-old Taste of Paradise has won 4 times in 19 starts, but is clearly fond of Hollywood Park, where he has won 3 times in 6 starts. He trained well in the mud recently, Mandella said, so he is not concerned over the possibility of wet weather this weekend.

"When it's a little wet, he likes it," Mandella said.

Jose Valdivia Jr. has the mount on Taste of Paradise. His rivals are expected to include Crystal Castle (David Flores the rider), My Cousin Matt (Ramon Dominguez), Newark, Our New Recruit (Tyler Baze), Revello (Jon Court), and Watchem Smokey (no rider named).

General Jumbo joins Futurity

General Jumbo, a five-length winner on an all-weather surface at Lingfield in Britain on Nov. 13, is the latest 2-year-old to join the lineup for the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 18, according to racing secretary Martin Panza.

General Jumbo is trained by Brian Meehan, who has had success with imports such as Buy the Sport and Master David. His win Nov. 13 came in his second start. He finished second in his debut.

The Futurity could very well decide the championship for 2-year-old male. Among those scheduled to run in the race are undefeated Declan's Moon, the winner of the Del Mar Futurity; Proud Accolade, the winner of the Champagne Stakes; and Wilko, the upset winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Others under consideration for the race are Bushwacker, Chips Are Down, Giacomo, Spanish Chestnut, and Sunny Sky, the French import who finished third in last Saturday's Generous Stakes on the turf. Sunny Sky is now trained by Julio Canani.

Five of the prospective starters for the Futurity must be supplemented to the race for $20,000 each, so the purse of the race is expected to be approximately $450,000.

Better Talk Now acclimates

Better Talk Now, who arrived on Tuesday for Saturday's Grade 1, $250,000 Hollywood Turf Cup, had a canter around the main track on Wednesday morning with exercise rider Fenella O'Flynn.

His trainer, Graham Motion, was surprised to find the weather as brisk and chilly as it was Wednesday morning.

"But I guess the cool weather is good for him, coming from where we're coming from," said Motion, who is based at Fair Hill, Md. "In Texas, it was humid."

The humid weather did not bother Better Talk Now. He won the Breeders' Cup Turf at Lone Star.

Wednesday morning, while touring the shed row at Mandella's barn, Better Talk Now repeatedly nipped at the hayrack of another horse while being walked.

"He seems to get his way since the Breeders' Cup," Motion said.

The 1 1/2-mile Turf Cup is a weight-for-age race in which older horses carry 126 pounds. Dominguez will ride Better Talk Now. His rivals are expected to include Balestrini (Mike Smith the rider), Habaneros (Flores), Hatif (Baze), License to Run, Megahertz (Rene Douglas), Moscow Burning (Valdivia), Pellegrino (Gary Stevens), and Puerto Banus (Kent Desormeaux).

Balestrini has finished second in a pair of allowance races in his last two starts. He is eligible to first-level allowance races, but was good enough earlier this year to finish third in the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap.

"It's not a question of the distance," said Balestrini's trainer, Neil Drysdale. "It's a question of up here," he said, pointing to his head.

Kela returns to California

Kela, who took ill last week while in New York and was scratched from Saturday's Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, has returned to the Hollywood Park barn of trainer Mike Mitchell.

"His blood work is good and his temperature is down," said Mitchell, who said Kela's fever spiked as high as 104 degrees. "The next day, it was a night-and-day difference. I wanted to get him out of there and bring him home where I can see him."

* In a winner-take-all handicapping seminar where the loser agreed to make a contribution to the winner's charity of choice, radio personality Aaron Hesz defeated track announcer Vic Stauffer last Saturday. Hesz said he was playing for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.