Declan's Moon will turn 3 years old on New Year's Day as the likely favorite for the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby.
The Maryland-bred gelding, a son of Malibu Moon, remained undefeated with a well-run victory in Saturday's $449,500 Hollywood Futurity. With Victor Espinoza up, Declan's Moon finished 1 length ahead of longshot Giacomo after turning back a bid from Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilco at the top of the stretch. Wilco held on for third. Champagne Stakes winner Proud Accolade finished fifth.
The victory also makes Declan's Moon the favorite to win a divisional Eclipse Award. His three previous wins for trainer Ron Ellis and owners Mace and Samantha Siegel included the Del Mar Futurity and the Hollywood Preview.
Declan's Moon pulled Espinoza to the lead, perhaps earlier than the jockey would have liked. But he seemed to be doing it on his own and with something left. When Wilco came calling at the quarter pole, Declan's Moon was easily up to the challenge and was under a hand ride for the final sixteenth.
"It was definitely easier than it might have looked," Espinoza said. "The horse always runs easy and he's improving. He deserves to the 2-year-old champion."
Added Ellis, "He's got the mind and he's got the ability. And I don't think we've hit the bottom of it yet. He's going to mature a little bit more."
Declan's Moon's sire, Malibu Moon, is a son of A.P. Indy from the Mr. Prospector mare Macoumba. His first foals raced in 2003 and Declan's Moon is clearly the best of his offspring so far.
With five months to go before the Run for the Roses, Espinoza is sitting the catbird seat among jockeys. He also is the regular rider of Texcess, who won the $1 million Delta Jackpot earlier this month, and Fusaichi Samuri, a late blooming son of Fusaichi Pegasus who shows tremendous promise for the coming year.
"It's a long way to go to the Triple Crown races and I know I may have a choice to make," Espinoza said. "I just consider myself very lucky to have been riding three horses that seem good enough to go to the Derby."
All North American Thoroughbreds share an "official" birthday of Jan. 1, no matter what the date of their actual foaling.
In other weekend events for 2-year-olds:
-- At Golden Gate Fields in northern California, Dover Dere went right to the lead in Saturday's $50,000 Gold Rush Stakes, extended the advantage and went on to win by 2 1/4 lengths over Booming Along. Krovitz was third and the odds-on favorite, Seize the Day, showed little, finishing fifth. Dover Dere, a Florida-bred colt by Cherokee Run, got the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.55 with Iggy Puglisi up.
-- Win Me Over staged a mild upset in Saturday's $100,000 Jim Edgar Futurity for Illinois-breds at Hawthorne Race Course. The Harvey and Nancy Vanier homebred son of Friendly Lover broke from the No. 14 post, dawdled near the back of the pack and then found room inside in the stretch to get up for a 1/2-length win over the odds-on favorite, Humor At Last. Chris Emigh rode Win Me Over in 1:47.10. The race is named for a former governor of Illinois, now an owner/breeder. Emigh said traffic forced him to the rail in the late going. "At the eighth pole, I didn't think we could win. By the time we got to the sixteenth, I thought we had a great chance," he said. Trainer Brian Williamson said the colt will go to Gulfstream and try the grass.
In 2-year-old filly races:
-- Splended Blended ran her record to 3-for-4 with a convincing win in Sunday's $380,000 Hollywood Starlet. The Florida-bred daughter of Unbridled's Song pulled jockey Kent Desormeaux to the leader on the backstretch, then dueled into the turn. When Desormeaux let her run, Splended Blended drew off to win by 2 lengths. Sharp Lisa was second and Northern Mischief was third. The 1 1/16 mile took 1:51.82. "I think this filly warrants going on to the (Kentucky) Oaks," said winning trainer Neil Drysdale. "I mean, this was a mile and a sixteenth. I don't think she'll have trouble going a mile and an eighth." Splended Blended's only loss was to Breeders' Cup winner Sweet Catomine.
-- Cee's Irish dueled down the stretch with Island Escape before winning Sunday's $50,000 Corte Madera Stakes at Golden Gate Fields by a nose. On London Time was home third. Cee's Irish, a California-bred daughter of Cee's Tizzy, ran the 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.94 for Russell Baze. She is trained by Doug O'Neill.
In other weekend racing:
Calder Race Course
Dreadnaught, a reformed jumper, closed resolutely on the outside and just got up in time to win Saturday's $200,000 W.L. McKnight Handicap, highlight of Grand Slam II. Demeteor was second after leading briefly in the stretch. Scooter Roach raced evenly to take third. Dreadnaught, a 4-year-old, Kentucky-bred son of Lac Ouimet, ran 1 1/2 mile on firm turf in 2:26.60. Jean-Luc Samyn was aboard. "He took a good position in mid pack," said Samyn. "He was comfortable." Trainer Tom Voss added, "You won't see him run again probably before June. Hopefully he'll be ready for the good races like the Sword Dancer at Saratoga and the Turf Classic later."
In the $200,000 La Prevoyante Handicap for distaffers, Arvada won a pace duel with Lenatareese, then held on through the late going to score by a head over Humaita. Honey Ryder came from last of 11 to take third. Arvada, a British-bred, 4-year-old daughter of Hernando, finished the 1 1/2 mile on firm turf in 2:27.19 under Edgar Prado. "When she took the lead, she relaxed very well," said Prado. Brian Lynch, assistant to trainer Bobby Frankel, said Arvada will point to the longer stakes events at the Gulfstream meeting.
Pies Prospect rallied from a stalking position on the turn in the $100,000 Fred W. Hooper Handicap, put away pace-setting Hear No Evil early in the stretch and went on to win by a comfortable 8 1/2 lengths over Twilight Road. Hear No Evil held on for third. Pies Prospect, a 3-year-old ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:50.74 with Edgar Prado in the irons. "He's a Crafty Prospector and I think he'll just get better with age," said winning trainer Nick Zito. "I'll try to pick his spots and maybe wait until later in the year to go after the biggest races. But that can always change."
And in the day's final stakes event, Medallist took complete charge in the stretch drive to win the $100,000 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap by 4 1/2 lengths over Paradise Dancer, with Hasty Kris third. The favorite, Weigelia, faded badly in the final furlong and finished seventh. Jose Santos steered Medallist over 7 furlongs in 1:22.62. "Between seven-eighths and a mile, he's one of the best horses there is right now," said Santos. Trainer Allen Jerkens said he has no firm plans for the horse, adding, "I'm anxious to get him going further, though."
Rare Gift led most of the way to the 6-length victory over Board Eligible in Saturday's $100,000 Ladies Handicap. Miss Fortunate was third and the favorite, Roar Emotion, finished fifth, fading through the stretch. Rare Gift, a 3-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song, ran the 1 1/4 mile on the inner track in 2:05.51 with Richie Migliore aboard.
Sunday, Don Six led from gate to wire in the $100,000 Gravesend Handicap, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Mr. Whitestone. Papua was third and the favorite, Gators N Bears, finished fourth. Don Six is a 4-year-old, Florida-bred colt by Wild Escape. Mike Luzzi guided him over 6 furlongs in 1:08.97.
Aggadan rallied between rivals in the stretch run to win Saturday's $100,000 Jennings Handicap for Maryland-breds by 1/2 length over Irish Colony. New York Hero was third. Aggadan, a 5-year-old son of Carnivalay, finished the 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:52.80. "Down the stretch, when he felt the horse outside of him, he used another gear and dug in," said winning rider Ariel Smith. "This horse really ran tremendously."
Shadow Cast moved from mid-pack on the turn to get the lead in Saturday's $60,000 Pago Hop Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and held on to beat Code of Ethics by a neck. Sister Swank, the favorite, was another head back in third with Galloping Gal just a nose farther back in fourth. Shadow Cast, a Kentucky-bred daughter of Smart Strike, finished the "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.83 for Robby Albarado. The filly is owned by Will Farish and trained by Neil Howard.
Discreet Hero was anything but discreet in his victory in Saturday's $50,000 Prairie Bayou Stakes. The 6-year-old Honour and Glory gelding jumped right to the front and rode the Turfway Express to a 14 1/4-length victory. Doc D eventually was along to finish second, a nose in front of Mr. Krisley. Discreet Hero, the pari-mutuel favorite, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:47.52. "I had a lot of horse and when I asked him to go, he gave me a big kick," said winning rider Dean Sarvis. "He drew away pretty easy. It was a very easy ride."
Muir Beach caught pace-setter Friendofthefamily with a furlong to go in Saturday's $40,000 Mesa Handicap and went by to win by 1 length. Arch Lady was third, well back of the first pair. Muir Beach, a gray, 3-year-old, Kentucky-bred daughter of Skip Away, finished the 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:15.02.
Rock Gulch rallied through the stretch like an odds-on favorite should to win Sunday's $100,000 Albert Dominguez Memorial Handicap by 3/4 length over Cattleman Prospect. Caspernio was third. The 1 1/16-mile event, for New Mexico-breds, was clocked in 1:42.31.
News and notes:
The Jockey Club of Canada announced the 2004 Sovereign Award winners Friday. Canadian Horse of the Year is Soaring Free. Division winners: 2-year-old filly, Simply Lovely; 2-year-old male, Wholelottabourbon; 3-year-old filly, Eye of the Sphynx; 3-year-old male, A Bit O'Gold, older female One For Rose, older male Mobile, female turf horse, Inish Gloria; male turf horse, Soaring Free; sprinter, Blonde Executive; breeder, Sam-Son Farm; owner, Sam-Son Farm; trainer, Robert Tiller, jockey, Todd Kabel, apprentice jockey, Corey Fraser. ... The Dubai International Racing Carnival has attracted even more horses from around the world than last year's initial edition. The Carnival offers $25 million in purses over 11 race meetings stretching from Jan. 20 through March 26 -- the 10th running of the Dubai World Cup.