02/23/2007 12:00AM

Pecking order in flux for Obispo


ARCADIA, Calif. - The older male turf division in California is so tangled that no fewer than four horses had the lead in the final furlong of the division's most recent race - the Grade 2 San Marcos Handicap on Jan. 21.

One Off won the race; Notable Guest and Obrigado finished two-three after leading briefly in deep stretch. Those three meet again Sunday at Santa Anita in the Grade 2, 1 1/2-mile San Luis Obispo Handicap, while facing two dangerous new shooters.

The veteran Runaway Dancer and rapidly improving On the Acorn leap into the chaos in the $150,000 San Luis Obispo, the second leg of Santa Anita's four-race marathon turf series. The Grade 2 San Luis Rey Handicap is March 24; the San Juan Capistrano Handicap goes April 22.

Runaway Dancer and On the Acorn arrive from different directions. Runaway Dancer ran second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup on Dec. 9; On the Acorn overcame traffic Feb. 8 to score an impressive win in an optional claimer.

An 8-year-old gelding with 7 wins from 34 starts, Runaway Dancer is in his sixth season of racing.

"He's a fun horse; he's been around forever," trainer Dan Hendricks said.

But will his comeback be his best race? "It should be, it usually is," Hendricks said.

A Grade 1 runner-up, winner of two Grade 3's, and proven fresh, Runaway Dancer fits Sunday.

As for On the Acorn, class analysis suggests he is in tough. But no horse in the field is sharper.

Claimed for $40,000 on Nov. 25 and gelded one day later, On the Acorn has improved rapidly for trainer Mike Mitchell. He cleared his first allowance condition by winning a weak optional claimer on Jan. 13, and followed with a sharp Feb. 8 win at 1 1/2 miles. On the Acorn was shuffled back on the far turn, re-rallied, and ran down a loose-on-the-lead pacesetter.

Julian Leparoux takes over aboard On the Acorn for Brice Blanc, who sticks with 117-pound co-topweight One Off.

One Off's win in the San Marcos, when he rallied from last after early trouble, was impressive.

Neil Drysdale trains One Off, whose improvement coincides with training on Cushion Track at Hollywood, and Obrigado, who will be farther off the pace.

Notable Guest makes his second U.S. start for Bobby Frankel and could go favored.