02/23/2007 12:00AM

'Acorn' sharp, but in tough


PHOENIX - One of the classic handicapping conundrums is where to give the advantage - current form or proven class. It's easy to find examples of each.

Back-classers such as Greg's Gold and Balance have won recently, without much or any current form. Then, last Monday, the suddenly sharp Conveyor's Angel won the Grade 2 Buena Vista, beating such classy fillies and mares as Mea Domina, Attima, and Flip Flop.

Such a quandary pops up again in Sunday's Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Handicap at Santa Anita. On the Acorn, seemingly with a new lease on life off two powerful local victories over much weaker company, takes on proven classy stayers such as One Off, Notable Guest, and Obrigado. So who has the edge in this 12-furlong grass event?

On the Acorn has tried stakes company before, but found those waters too deep. Claimed for $40,000 on Nov. 25 by Mike Mitchell, On the Acorn rallied to beat optional claiming foes at Santa Anita on Jan. 13 for an 88 Beyer. He came back going 1 1/2 miles at Santa Anita on Feb. 8 and put up an even better performance, rallying powerfully to roll by slightly tougher optional claiming rivals, this time registering a 90 Beyer.

In the San Luis Obispo, On the Acorn faces several who are moving forward as well. And their starting point likely had them a few lengths ahead of On the Acorn.

One Off, trained by Neil Drysdale, had been a study in frustration when it came to winning at the upper level. Now a 7-year-old, One Off is coming off two straight impressive victories. He powered home to easily beat optional claiming foes at Hollywood Park on Dec. 15, and then kicked home strongly to beat many of these in the Grade 2 San Marcos Handicap on Jan. 21.

A horse he beat by less than a length in the San Marcos - Notable Guest - returns in the San Luis Obispo. An English import trained by Bobby Frankel, Notable Guest made his U.S. debut in the San Marcos. He had a solid though not stellar European career. In the San Marcos, Notable Guest couldn't quite match strides with the winner but stayed on a strong second, beaten three-quarters of a length. With that race under his belt and proven 12-furlong form he's plenty scary.

Toss in Obrigado, another Drysdale runner, who rallied to be third behind One Off and Notable Guest in the San Marcos and finished second last year in the Grade 1 Hollywood, Grade 2 Oak Tree, and Grade 2 Del Mar derbies, and you can see why On the Acorn will need all his current form and then some.

Two horses to watch

Trick a Cat was not going to get beat in Santa Anita's third race Thursday, a $40,000 claimer at a mile on the turf, as she blew the doors off the field to win going away. A couple behind her deserve mention, however, as potential price plays for next time.

Pen Pal, from the Roger Stein barn, has been inconsistent to say the least. Coming off a 10th-place finish against similar at Santa Anita on Dec. 29, Pen Pal was let go at a hefty 83-1 on Thursday. She was far back early, about where she was expected to be. Under Michael Baze, she began a run on the far turn, swung out, and finished smartly to be a clear second. Maybe this is a sign that she's headed the right way.

Mohawk, trained by Paddy Gallagher, hasn't made much of a dent in the U.S. since coming from New Zealand. She was second in a tough optional claimer at Santa Anita last April, but then was gone until November, and in four comeback outings had yet to raise much of a fuss.

That changed Thursday, however. Stalking the pace inside, Mohawk moved up on horses' heels, just crying out for room. It never materialized. Now, she wasn't going to beat Trick a Cat with a head start, but she still punched the gas when a hole opened up on the rail. She burst through and finished quite nicely to get third.