12/06/2004 12:00AM

Taste of Paradise wins Vernon Underwood


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Starting for his fourth trainer this year, Taste of Paradise gave trainer Gary Mandella his first graded stakes win in Sunday's $100,000 at Hollywood Park.

The longest shot in a field of seven, Taste of Paradise ($54.80) rallied along the rail to catch defending champion Watchem Smokey, who took the lead in final furlong.

Ridden by Jose Valdivia, Jr., Taste of Paradise ran six furlongs in 1:08.04 on a wet-fast track. He finished a nose in front of Watchem Smokey, who was two lengths clear of pacesetter My Master.

Kela, second in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Lone Star Park in October, finished fourth as the 3-2 favorite.

Taste of Paradise was making his first start since finishing fifth in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap. He was transferred from trainer Molly Pearson to Mandella in September when Pearson moved to Turf Paradise in Arizona.

Mandella said Taste of Paradise needed the layoff to heal an abscess found in a rear leg.

"He needed all the three months to get ready," Mandella said. "I think the key was he was fresh. He'd gotten really sharp and was looking for something to do."

Owned by David Bloom, Taste of Paradise, 5, has won 5 of 20 starts and $414,455. Earlier this year, Taste of Paradise started for Jay Robbins and Michael Stidham.

The Grade 3 Underwood Stakes marked Taste of Paradise's first graded stakes win since the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar in August 2003 when he was trained by John Sadler.