Declan's Moon, the undefeated Maryland-bred seen as a potential boost to state racing if not racing nationwide, has suffered an injury that will sideline him until at least the fall.
The leading contender for the Kentucky Derby, Declan's Moon injured his left front leg while winning the Santa Catalina Stakes last weekend at Santa Anita Park, said Ron Ellis, his trainer. The 3-year-old gelding suffered a small stress fracture of the radius bone just above the knee, the trainer said.
Based at Hollywood Park in Southern California, Ellis said that three veterinarians had examined the horse and studied X-rays of the injury. He said all three concluded that Declan's Moon probably could race a couple more times before the fracture produced a bone chip.
"We just didn't want to take a chance," Ellis said. "It's disappointing. But this isn't an uncommon occurrence in our business."
He said Declan's Moon's being a gelding influenced the decision. Since he cannot become a stallion, his value comes from being a racehorse. Ellis said he and the gelding's owners, Samantha and Mace Siegel, who live in California, decided not to press on toward the Derby, but to preserve the horse for future racing.
Ellis said that more X-rays would be taken next week and that a decision would be made then whether to perform surgery or to allow the injury to heal on its own. Either way, he said, Declan's Moon won't race again until at least September.
"He's going to miss all the big stuff," Ellis said, referring to the Triple Crown series. "If this happened before the Breeders' Cup, you could say, well, we'll catch it next year. We can't catch the Derby next year."
The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont are open only to thoroughbreds who are 3 years old. Horses have one chance - and only one chance - to run in the series that defines racing for many in this country.
Kentucky Derby winners transcend the sport and sometimes become national sensations. That's why the success of Declan's Moon, born and raised on a farm in Howard County, was so important to Marylanders hoping for a boost in racing's stature with lawmakers in Annapolis.
They hoped that Declan's Moon could play a role in Maryland racetracks' getting slot machines, just as the Pennsylvania-bred Smarty Jones, last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, helped solidify support for slots in that state.
With slots at tracks subsidizing purses and funding programs to encourage breeding, Pennsylvania could become the dominant racing power in the region.
Also, racing's stars suffer injuries so often that whenever a potential star comes along, hopes rise. Declan's Moon, who won all four of his races last year, won the Eclipse Award as the outstanding 2-year-old male in North America.
After winning the Santa Catalina Stakes in his first start at 3, he solidified his place at the top of polls ranking Kentucky Derby contenders.
"We're all disappointed, but he'll be back to fight another day," said Mike Pons, who manages Country Life Farm near Bel Air with his brother, Josh.
The farm stood Malibu Moon when he sired Declan's Moon. After four years in Maryland, however, Malibu Moon became so successful that he was relocated to Kentucky. Country Life Farm retained one-quarter ownership in Malibu Moon.
"I give a lot of credit to Ron Ellis," Pons said of Declan's Moon's trainer. "With the Derby in their sights, a lot of guys might have said `Damn the torpedoes' and pushed on.
"I'm so pleased a guy like Ron Ellis is steward of this horse's racing career. How many times have we seen good horses run in the Derby never to be seen again?"
Brice Ridgely, who owns Spring Meadow Farm in Cooksville with his wife, Mary Anne, is the breeder of Declan's Moon. He bred his unheralded mare Vee Vee Star to Malibu Moon in 2001. The mating produced Declan's Moon in 2002. He was named after a Ridgely grandson, Declan Kenny.
Ridgely offered Declan's Moon as a yearling at a Timonium auction, and the Siegels bought him for $125,000. Winning all five of his races, including one Grade I stakes, two Grade IIs and one Grade III, Declan's Moon has earned $627,300.
"We haven't lost our horse; we've just lost some time," Ridgely said. "The only disappointment is that I was hoping for this horse to come to Maryland, and for Maryland to have a good time with him during the Preakness."