Undefeated Declan's Moon, the early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I), pulled away from challengers Going Wild and Spanish Chestnut in the final furlong to register an impressive victory in the $200,000 Santa Catalina (gr. II) Saturday at Santa Anita.The 2004 juvenile champion, making his first start since winning the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) Dec. 18, appeared to be in for a dogfight after racing on the outside of his rivals throughout the 1 1/16-mile event. But jockey Victor Espinoza reached back and gave Declan's Moon a couple of cracks of the whip with his left hand at the eighth pole and the Malibu Moon gelding spurted away to a two-length victory. The time on a fast track slowed by recent rain was 1:42 2/5."He feels different now," Espinoza said. "He's getting better. Each race he's getting better. And I was really pleased with the way he ran today with the time off he had. He was unbelievable. He's learning more about how to run. "All the way around this horse felt very strong. I could feel he was stronger than the rest of the field, so I just waited as much as I could. As soon as he switched leads and turned for home I just let him go. I kind of rode him a little bit, nothing hard. I just want him to learn to finish up like always." Going Wild, ridden by Rafael Bejarano, was second with the pacesetter Spanish Chestnut, Gary Stevens aboard, fading to third five lengths behind Declan's Moon. All three carried 122 pounds in the field of six. Snack took a bad step, broke his right front ankle near the second turn and had to be euthanized.
Trained by Ron Ellis, Declan's Moon won for the fifth time for owners Jay Em Ess Stable of Mace and Samantha Siegel. The victory pushed his earnings to $627,300.Spanish Chestnut appeared to bang the gate slightly coming away but quickly assumed control under a loose hold by Stevens, opening up on Going Wild by nearly two lengths while racing off the rail through early fractions of :23 2/5 and :46 4/5. Going Wild drew even along the inside after six furlongs in 1:10 4/5 and they were soon joined on the outside by Declan's Moon. Through the early stretch run the three were even across the track but Declan's Moon proved best.Ellis said he hoped the race didn't take much out of Declan's Moon. His next start is expected to come in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 9."I don't know if Stevens was trying to stay out on the better part of the track or he was trying to float us out but he was keeping us out wide," he said. "I was a little concerned that if he (Declan's Moon) went three-wide around both turns that he might not be fit enough, but that wasn't the case. He had plenty left."Bejarano felt Going Wild was traveling well. "But when I feel the horse in the front just keep moving, I asked my horse . . . and he finished good, but the other horse, he was powerful. (Going Wild) is a nice horse, but the other colt is real good." Lukas said Going Wild would remain in Southern California for the Santa Anita Derby as well.Stevens was pleased with the effort of Spanish Chestnut."He put up a good fight when both those horses came up to him. We missed a little training with him, but he flattened out with them pretty good . . . the last eighth of a mile, he was laboring with me. He should move forward off this quite a bit because he needed this race today. I was proud of him."Declan's Moon had a nearly perfect trip, although he broke in and bumped with Going Wild at the start and was three wide on the clubhouse turn. After getting clear in the stretch he drifted inward slightly.The 4-5 favorite paid $3.60, $2.40 and $2.10. Going Wild, the slight 7-2 second choice over Spanish Chestnut, returned $3.40 and $2.60 while Spanish Chestnut was $2.60 to show. Go Coyote Joe and Juliesugardaddy followed. (Chart, Equibase)