Declan’s Moon, racing’s 2004 juvenile champion, faces what could be his defining moment Saturday when facing six other older horses in Santa Anita’s $150,000 San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II), a major prep for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Miguel Indian Bingo & Casino (gr. I) on March 3.
The 5-year-old Maryland-bred gelding has encountered an arduous journey following a 16-month layoff to recover from knee surgery after winning his first five races, an Eclipse Award, and beginning 2005 as a top Triple Crown candidate.
Declan’s Moon has been beaten in three comeback starts, all sprint races. But his connections expect that the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual will be more to the fancy of Declan's Moon, who carries high weight of 118 pounds and regular rider Victor Espinoza.
In his last start prior to hitting the sidelines, Declan’s Moon was a two-length winner of Santa Anita’s Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II) (subsequently renamed the Robert B. Lewis) at Saturday's distance. His only other start at the distance found him defeating eventual Kentucky Derby (gr. I) champion Giacomo in the 2004 Hollywood Futurity (gr. I).
“I’ve always thought he was a two-turn horse,” said Ron Ellis, who trains Declan’s Moon for Jay Em Ess Stable. “He should be more suited to the distance on Saturday.”
A winner of five of eight starts and $650,300, Declan’s Moon will compete against a field that includes Dixie Meister, winner of Hollywood Park’s Californian (gr. II) last summer, multiple stakes winner Preachinatthebar, 2006 San Antonio Handicap (gr. II) winner Spellbinder, and Buckland Manor, who lost last year’s San Pasqual by a nose to High Limit.
$150,000 San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II, Race 8, 4:07 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Preachinatthebar (KY), 116, Jon Court
2. Dixie Meister (TX), 116, David Flores
3. Declan's Moon (MD), 118, Victor Espinoza
4. Buckland Manor (KY), 115, Aaron Gryder
5. Cheroot (CA), 115, Martin Pedroza
6. Armenian Summer (CA), 109, Garrett Gomez
7. Spellbinder (KY), 116, Corey Nakatani