06/04/2007 12:00AM

Just getting warmed up at 1 1/4 miles

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - On the Acorn, the winner of major turf stakes in his last two starts, may meet his match in Saturday's $300,000 Charles Whittingham Handicap. It may not be the competition, however, that prevents him from continuing his winning streak.

On the Acorn is expected to face a tough group in the Grade 1 Whittingham, including Lava Man, the top older horse in California. A bigger concern for trainer Mike Mitchell is the race distance of 1 1/4 miles on turf.

On the Acorn's stakes wins have come at about 1 3/4 miles in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap and 1o1/2 miles in the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap.

"He wants to go farther," Mitchell said. "I'm thinking a mile and a half is more to his liking."

On the Acorn has won three races at 1 1/8 miles on turf and once at 1 1/4 miles on turf, but those races were not stakes.

In the Grade 1 Whittingham, On the Acorn will be in pursuit of Lang Field, a former maiden claimer who has led throughout his last three starts, all at 1o1/8 miles on turf. Trained by Art Sherman, Lang Field, 4, is almost certain to set the pace and could prove tough to catch.

"I'm hoping for some gas in the race," Mitchell said. "Can anyone handle Sherman's kind of speed?"

The Whittingham will be Lava Man's first start since he finished 16th in the $5omillion Dubai Duty Free Stakes at Nad al Sheba on March 31. The winner of the 2006 Whittingham, Lava Man won two stakes earlier this year - the $500,000 Sunshine Millions Turf and the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Lava Man is trained by Doug O'Neill, who saddled three winners on Sunday.

Other expected starters for the Whittingham include After Market, Fitz Flag, Obrigado, and Red Fort.

The Whittingham is one of four stakes on Saturday's program. Valbenny is the likely favorite in the $175,000 Honeymoon Breeders' Cup Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf for 3-year-old fillies. She won the Senorita Stakes last month.

Sherman has an outstanding team for the $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap over 7 1/2 furlongs - Siren Lure, the winner of the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap last summer, and Soul City Slew, who set a track record of 1:27.58 for 7 1/2 furlongs on May 17.

Dancing Edie, the winner of the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap last summer at Del Mar, starts in the $75,000 Redondo Beach Stakes over a mile on turf for fillies and mares.

Two Mitchell horses run big

Mitchell's stable had an outstanding day on Saturday, winning the Manhattan Beach Stakes with Sindy With an S and finishing second in the $250,000 Californian Stakes with the former claimer Sun Boat.

Sun Boat could return for the $750,000 Hollywood Gold Cup on June 30, pending weight assignments. Sun Boat won a $40,000 claimer here on May 13. In the Californian, he rallied from ninth to finish a nose behind Buzzards Bay, the 2-1 favorite.

Mitchell was reluctant to run Sun Boat in the Californian because the 5-year-old gelding carried the same weight as Buzzards Bay, a Grade 1 winner, under the allowance conditions of the race.

"I hated to run but I wanted to see where I was at" with the horse, he said.

Sindy With an S is bound for the $300,000 Azalea BC Stakes at Calder on July 7 after winning her turf debut in the $83,125 Manhattan Beach over six furlongs.

After breaking slowly, Sindy With an S stalked the pace, took the lead in early stretch, and won by 1 1/2 lengths in a quick 1:08.49.

Prior to the Manhattan Beach, Sindy With an S was third in the Grade 3 Railbird Stakes on May 13.

"In the Railbird, she shouldn't have been on the lead," Mitchell said. "This race was perfect. She got left a little bit."

Gold Cup next for Buzzards Bay

Buzzards Bay is bound for the Hollywood Gold Cup, which is run over 1 1/4 miles. Along with Molengao, the winner of the Grade 2 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap in May, Buzzards Bay will be a leading contender.

Buzzards Bay made his second start of the year in the Californian, having finished third in Mervyn LeRoy.

"So far, our plans are working out," trainer Ron Ellis said. "I think he's a true mile-and-a-quarter horse.

"He's got a month between races. He looked pretty good after this race. When he cooled out, he was pretty bright-eyed."

Tyler Baze to ride Thursday

Jockey Tyler Baze returns from a self-imposed hiatus of more than a month on Thursday.

Baze has not ridden since May 4. Through May, he focused on improving his nutrition and fitness. He has also attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with a personal trainer who has also served as an advisor.

Baze said on Sunday that he is ready to return and has been exercising horses in recent weeks. He intended to ride on Wednesday, but did not draw a mount on an eight-race program.

"I feel like a Quarter Horse that's been locked in a stall for a week," Baze said.

When he returns, Baze will have plenty to do to restore his status as a leading rider. The Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey in 2001, Baze had 1 win from 14 mounts in the first few weeks of this meeting.

Santa Anita resurfacing on target

The Cushion Track synthetic material that will be used on Santa Anita's main track is in the process of being shipped from England and is expected to arrive in California in July, according to Santa Anita president Ron Charles.

Charles said the project to replace Santa Anita's main track with a synthetic surface is "full steam ahead" and is expected to be completed in early September, coinciding with the conclusion of the Del Mar meeting on Sept. 5.

The Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting, which will be the first to use the synthetic track, begins on Sept. 26.

Charles said the project to replace the existing track with a synthetic surface will begin shortly after the Del Mar meeting starts on July 18.

Charles said the track maintenance crew will need four weeks to remove the existing surface and regrade the track before the Cushion Track installation begins.

Unlike Polytrack, Cushion Track comes ready to be installed. Polytrack, which is in use at Del Mar, is mixed onsite before it is installed.