06/05/2007 12:00AM

On the Acorn drops out


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The defection of multiple graded stakes winner On the Acorn will make it easier for Lava Man to win his comeback Saturday in the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park.

On the Acorn emerged as California's top long-distance turf runner this spring, winning the Grade 2, 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano and Grade 2, 1 1/2-mile Jim Murray Memorial. But when weight assignments were released for the 1 1/4-mile Whittingham Handicap, On the Acorn's trainer, Mike Mitchell, said no thanks.

Lava Man was assigned 124 for the Whittingham. On the Acorn was assigned 118.

"I'm not running," Mitchell said. "The weight they put on Lava Man never seems to change. It if was a mile and a half or further, I would consider it, but not a mile and a quarter."

The distance is perfect for Lava Man, who has won four straight Grade 1s in California at a 1 1/4 miles, including the 2006 Whittingham. The difference this year is Lava Man is racing for the first time since finishing 16th and last in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free. Trainer Doug O'Neill is both confident and realistic.

"We're expecting a big effort," O'Neill said. "He is training like the Lava Man of pre-Dubai. But when a horse comes off a dismal performance like he is, I'd be lying to say there was no doubt."

Corey Nakatani rides Lava Man, who will have four or five rivals, including After Market and Obrigado, 118 each; Red Fort, 117; and front-runner Lang Field, 115. Porfido is a possible at 114.

On the Acorn will not run until next month, at the earliest. Mitchell said On the Acorn will wait for the Grade 2, 1 1/2-mile Sunset Handicap on July 15 at Hollywood, or the Grade 2, 1 3/8-mile Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 26 at Del Mar.

"I've run my horse hard," Mitchell said, referring to On the Acorn's five starts and four wins this year. "I can wait for an easier spot."

Mitchell expects to have two starters June 30 in the Hollywood Gold Cup, which Lava Man has won the past two years and is being pointed to again. Mitchell-trained Sun Boat, runner-up in the Californian on Saturday, will be joined by Mitchell-trained Big Booster, who won a $62,500 optional claimer on May 24.

Big Booster rallied from last to first and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 96 in the 1 1/16-mile race. "He should love a mile and quarter," Mitchell said. "I look at [Big Booster] and Sun Boat as about the same caliber."

Contest thins out quickly

Hollywood Park's online wagering contest, called Show Me the Money, started on May 20 with more than 2,200 players. The sudden-death format requires players pick one horse each day to finish in first to third position. Players are eliminated if their horse runs out. The contest was down to fewer than 30 players after the biggest bloodbath, percentage-wise, of the contest on Sunday.

Corazondelcampeon was favored at 2-5 in a four-horse field in the first race. Fifty-three of the 82 remaining Show Me the Money players (65 percent) picked him. Corazondelcampeon was breezing on the lead, but hit a wall at the top of the stretch and faded to last. Tuesday morning, trainer Julio Canani offered no answers.

"He didn't bleed," Canani said. "Who knows that happened? We just have to regroup."

Show me the Money is a $5,000 winner-take-all contest offered through the Hollywood Park website.

Surface keeping speed honest

It is not impossible to win a Cushion Track route race on the lead. But most sensible handicappers and jockeys have recognized that main-track speed at Hollywood is a lot less reliable than it is on a standard dirt track. Just ask jockey David Flores, who got away with an easy trip Sunday on Hystericalady, the pacesetter in the Grade 2 Milady.

"At Santa Anita, with that pace, there's no way they could catch me," Flores said Tuesday.

Hystericalady went the opening half-mile in a leisurely 47.83 seconds, opened up after three-quarters in a soft 1:11.67, yet Nashoba's Key still ran her down and blew past her late.

"I was sick. My filly never slowed down," Flores said. "The track is safe, that's the main thing. But if you try to steal a race on the lead, it's hard."

The profile has been particularly obvious the past four weeks. After the Milady, only 4 of the meet's 32 races at 1 1/16 miles had been won by the first-call leader, and 2 of the 4 winners went the opening half-mile in 49 seconds or slower.

Boboman still on for Gold Cup

Boboman is going to the Gold Cup, despite a disappointing fourth-place finish as the second choice Saturday in the Californian.

Trainer Richard Mandella said Boboman came out of the race "a little cramped up."

"Both his front feet were stinging him," Mandella said. "I think we'll be all right for the Gold Cup."

Mandella also said his promising 2-year-old A.P. Indy colt Booted would forsake a maiden race and run next July 4 in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile. Booted missed by a head in a promising May 20 debut at 4 1/2 furlongs.

"The six [furlongs] will help him," Mandella said.

Guillot loaded with juveniles

The field for the Juvenile will include Salute the Sarge, a debut winner Saturday trained by Eric Guillot. A son of Forest Wildcat and a half-brother to Chelokee, Salute the Sarge was the first 2-year-old winner of the year for Guillot, who said he has "about 40" 2-year-olds this year.

Many have been turned out with minor ailments, but Guillot said a filly by Vindication and a colt by Pine Bluff are up to a half-mile and should make their debut at this meet.