Declan's Moon cruises, controls Santa Catalina Stakes

Kentucky Derby hopeful still unbeaten after 5 races

March 06, 2005|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ARCADIA, Calif. - Declan's Moon, born and raised in Maryland, reaffirmed yesterday that he's the leading Kentucky Derby contender with a leisurely, picture-perfect victory in the $200,000 Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita Park.

The Maryland-bred gelding remained undefeated after five races. He'll compete April 9 in the Santa Anita Derby. Should he win, he would enter the country's biggest race - the Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs - with all eyes upon him.

"I keep saying I think this is a special horse," said Ron Ellis, his trainer. "The longer he can stay undefeated, the more special he is.

"To me, it's a game of hopes and dreams, and you just hope you have one of the ones that goes down as something special. Our dream's still alive with winning today."

This was the first race for Declan's Moon as a 3-year-old and first since he was named champion 2-year-old male. He hadn't raced since Dec. 18. He had missed training because of one of the rainiest winters on record in Southern California. Yet he won with an ear pricked.

"He's always got that ear pricking," Ellis said, "which tells me he's got something left."

As the 4-5 favorite in a field of six, Declan's Moon pounced out of the gate but allowed Victor Espinoza, his jockey, to throttle him down. They settled behind the front-running Spanish Chestnut and raced side-by-side, with Going Wild down the backstretch.

Declan's Moon was widest of the three, so when he accelerated around the far turn, he had clear sailing. He outran Going Wild, passed Spanish Chestnut with about an eighth of a mile to go, and then cruised under the wire to win by two lengths. Going Wild claimed second, three lengths ahead of Spanish Chestnut.

Declan's Moon paid $3.60 to win. Going Wild and Spanish Chestnut were 7-2, so the payoffs were minimal. The exacta paid $11, the trifecta $16.60. Declan's Moon's time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1 minute, 42.41 seconds.

Snack, the 5-1 fourth choice, broke his right front ankle on the backstretch. He was euthanized. An Indiana-bred son of Afternoon Deelites, Snack was making his first start for new owners and Santa Anita's leading trainer, Doug O'Neill. Racing in the Midwest, he had won four of eight races and not finished worse than third.

Ellis was concerned before the race about the fitness of Declan's Moon. Afterward, he was all smiles.

"I really wanted everything to go right. You keep thinking about that undefeated thing," Ellis said. "I hadn't really pressed him to be a hundred percent for this race. It's a race I wanted to get through, not knock him out, but still get a win. I think it worked."

Asked about the competition facing Declan's Moon as he strives to enter the Kentucky Derby undefeated, Ellis said he hadn't been paying too close attention.

"I think you worry about it when you've got the fifth-best horse," Ellis said. "I think I've got the bomb."

Declan's Moon was bred by Brice Ridgely from a mating of his mare, Vee Vee Star, and the red-hot sire, Malibu Moon. Ridgely and his wife, Mary Anne, own Spring Meadow Farm in Howard County.

Brice Ridgely did not attend the race, but Mary Anne did. After the winner's circle celebration, she beamed.

"Unbelievable," she said. "Words can't describe it. We're so excited."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.