03/19/2008 11:00PM

On the Acorn begins year in earnest

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Spring training ended early this year for On the Acorn.

A third-place finish in the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita last month was considered the ideal warm-up for the rest of On the Acorn's 2008 campaign, which begins in earnest in Saturday's $200,000 San Luis Rey Handicap.

"That was a perfect race," trainer Mike Mitchell said. "He's a big, heavy horse. I knew he'd come back blowing hard. The horse is great."

Mitchell joked on Thursday that his biggest concern about the Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap is how to contain an excited partnership, the Indizguys Stable, which owns the 7-year-old gelding. Last year, On the Acorn won two Grade 2 handicaps - the San Juan Capistrano and Jim Murray Memorial - before being benched for more than nine months. It was a far cry from his days as a $40,000 to $50,000 claimer in the fall of 2006 when the partnership purchased On the Acorn for $40,000.

"He needed a break really bad, and he got it," Mitchell said. "The payoff is he's doing really good. I'm pleased with the way he's come back to this race."

In the San Luis Obispo at 1 1/2 miles on turf, On the Acorn rallied from seventh in an eight-horse field to finish third, three lengths behind the winner, Spring House. The San Luis Rey has a field of seven, but will not feature Spring House, who is aiming for the $5omillion Sheema Classic in Dubai on March 29.

Without Spring House, or Champs Elysees, the winner of the San Marcos Stakes in January, On the Acorn inherits a leading role in the San Luis Rey, where he'll share the starting high weight of 116 pounds with Obrigado, who was third in the San Marcos last out.

Obrigado won the 2007 San Luis Obispo Handicap, but is winless in seven subsequent starts. Owned by Peter Vegso and Gary Seidler and trained by Neil Drysdale, Obrigado lost by 1 1/4 lengths to Champs Elysees in the San Marcos, an improvement over his performances in late 2007.

The only other stakes winner in the field is Warning Zone, the winner of the minor War Chant Stakes at a mile on turf at Hollywood Park in November. Warning Zone has run poorly in four subsequent starts, including a fourth in an optional claimer on the main track here on Feb. 25.