Odds long for `Moon' over Million

Md.-bred likely to make post-injury debut in Ky.

Horse Racing

August 24, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Before an injury curtailed his 3-year-old season, Maryland-bred Declan's Moon, with a 5-for-5 career record, was the early favorite in the drive toward last May's Kentucky Derby.

Now he is back on the racetrack, and those involved with the Maryland Million are hoping against odds the gelding's owner and trainer will make a last-minute decision to enter him for his first post-injury race.

"I know the Maryland people are all hoping we'll bring him there," said Declan's Moon owner, Samantha Siegel, who has been a long supporter of Maryland racing despite living in California, and won the Maryland Million Oaks with Urbane in 1995. "Right now, it's an outside possibility for this year."

Declan's Moon was bred in Bel Air at Country Life Farm for Cooksville's Brice Ridgely, who sold him as a yearling to Siegel at a Timonium auction. He was 4-for-4 as a 2-year-old. His success gave hope to racing supporters here that the horse would increase the popularity of the sport and unite support for slot machines to help racing in Maryland the way Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones did in Pennsylvania.

But Declan's Moon injured his left front leg while winning the Santa Catalina Stakes, the first race of his 3-year-old season. And though doctors found a small bone chip - "not as big as your little fingernail," Siegel said - neither Siegel nor trainer Ron Ellis wanted to take any chances. They sidelined him through the Triple Crown season.

"As far as his career goes, it gives him a chance to extend it because he didn't go through the hard pounding horses running in the classics take," said Ellis. "There have been a lot of very, very popular horses that didn't run in the Triple Crown races that went on to have wonderful careers - Cigar, John Henry, Forego. A lot of horses. Seabiscuit. He had a terrible 3-year-old season, and they're still making movies about him."

Declan's Moon has been back on the track since mid-June. On Friday, he worked three-eighths of a mile in 36.2 seconds, and today he is scheduled to work a half-mile on Santa Anita Park's dirt track.

No one wants to rush Declan's Moon, which is one reason Ellis has his eyes on the Oct. 14 $200,000 Perryville Stakes, a Grade III race in Keeneland, Ky. It has three things going for it. It is worth $50,000 more than the Maryland Million sprint for 3-year-olds at Laurel Park. It is nearly a week later than the Oct. 8 Maryland Million Day. And it is an easy, direct flight from California.

"It's a very tough trip to Maryland," said Siegel, noting the horse would have to fly to Kentucky, New York or New Jersey and van to Laurel or be sent on a cargo plane. "This year, frankly, I think it's not an option. Ron is a perfectionist, and we want Declan's Moon to be 1,000 percent in his first race back. We don't want any possibility of a loss. I wish Maryland came the week after Keeneland as a backup plan. It would make it easier."

But Ridgely is among those campaigning for Declan's Moon to run on Million Day and is not ready to give up.

"Just like always, Maryland does not come up with the purse money other states do," Ridgely said. "But I think we can overcome the travel issue."

On Saturday, Siegel and Ellis will run another Maryland-bred - who is also eligible to run on Maryland Million Day - Unrequited, a Not For Love colt, at Del Mar. It will be the first race for the 2-year-old.

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