Declan's Moon tops Haskin's early list of 2005 Derby hopefuls.

Declan's Moon tops Haskin's early list of 2005 Derby hopefuls.


A New Year's Peek at 2005 Derby Candidates

It's still four months and numerous heartaches and disappointments until the 2005 Kentucky Derby (gr. I), but with so many exciting 2-year-olds in 2004, this is a good time for Steve Haskin to take a very early look at the leading contenders.

1 -- DECLAN'S MOON – Nothing not to like about him so far. He's undefeated, he's fast, he's a fighter, and he's a gelding, which is good news for all those looking for a long-term hero. Still would like to see him relax a bit more early on. Pedigree has a number of unproven stallions, but his sire is a son of A.P. Indy and he's inbred to Secretariat's dam, Somethingroyal.

2 -- ROMAN RULER – He was the rage before dropping a neck decision to Declan's Moon, and although his Norfolk (gr. II) win was frowned upon by many, he still won by 4 1/2 lengths. Bothered by an undescended testicle in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). With that problem taken care of, there's no reason why he shouldn't catapult right back to the top of the list of Derby favorites. He has the looks and the pedigree, and certainly the talent.

3 -- AFLEET ALEX – It seems as if all the pedigree experts have serious doubts about his being a mile and a quarter horse. But, he runs like a distance horse and has a quick turn of foot. While there is plenty of middle-distance speed in his sire line, his female family is loaded with stamina turf breeding through Hawkster, world-record holder for a mile and a half, and Hawaii, course record holder at Belmont for a mile and a half. Hawkster's, grandsire, Roberto, won the English Derby. He's been remarkably consistent and gets a new rider in John Velazquez. If he hadn't gotten into trouble at the start and got hung five-wide on the first turn and four-wide on the second turn he most likely would have won the BC Juvenile.

4 -- ROCKPORT HARBOR – Like Declan's Moon, he's won all four of his starts, while showing brilliance and courage. Prevailed over a tough, gifted opponent in a gut-wrencher in the Remsen (gr. II) despite suffering a severe gash early in the race. He has an enormous stride and high cruising speed and can run his opponents into the ground without exerting too much energy. In the Nashua Stakes (gr. III), he destroyed the promising Phipps colt Defer, who came back and easily won the Laurel Futurity (gr. III).

5 -- WILKO – Third-place finish in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) actually boosted his stock, getting beaten 1 1/2 lengths, while running with a quarter crack. He got squeezed down on the rail by Declan's Moon and had to come off the fence in the upper stretch. Was late changing leads, but ran on strongly, just getting nipped on the wire for second. Obviously durable with 12 starts under him, and he's a son of red-hot sire Awesome Again .

6 -- SWEET CATOMINE – Physically and talent-wise, she has what it takes to tackle the boys at Churchill Downs. She has an amazingly quick turn of foot for a big, robust filly, and shrugged off traffic problems at a critical point in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) like it was nothing. Simply overpowered her opponents in the stretch. And remember: she did run faster than the colts that day. The daughter of Storm Cat has tons of stamina throughout her pedigree.

7 -- DEFER – With only one start, he wasn't ready to take on a monster like Rockport Harbor in the Nashua, but look out come next May. Found a good spot in the Laurel Futurity and won comfortably. Shug McGaughey, inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, is long overdue for a Derby winner and this could very well be the one if he continues to move forward. You won't find a more regally bred colt on the Derby trail.

8 -- FUSAICHI SAMURAI – One maiden sprint victory and the bandwagon is already overcrowded. A major hype horse with his world-record $4.5 million price tag, he lived up to his billing (at least for a maiden race) with a brilliant, effortless performance. A long, lean distance-type colt, he toyed with his opposition, winning under a hold, then galloped out like a powerhouse while still hugging the rail. He's a regal-looking colt, with his head low and neck arched Yes, he's being over-hyped right now for what he's accomplished, but so was his sire, Fusaichi Pegasus , and he sure looks a chip off the old block.

9 -- GALLOPING GROCER – Like Rockport Harbor, he faced a major challenge in the Remsen and passed with flying colors despite his neck defeat. Like the winner, this was the first time he was tested after three strolls in the park against state-breds. Pedigree not filled with big names, but sire A.P. Jet was a talented racehorse with a super pedigree, and there's more than enough stamina in his female family. Young trainer Dominick Schettino has never had a big horse before. The bottom line is that this is a flat-out runner.

10 -- SUN KING – Nick Zito has several up-and-comers, but this is his big gun for the Derby after strong thirds in the Champagne (gr. I) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He hasn't had the best of trips and showed a lot of guts when he held off the strong challenge of the highly regarded Patriot Act in his maiden victory. A son of Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic, he has a good blend of speed and stamina and seems more of a grinder who runs hard all the way.

11 -- KIRKENDAHL – Hard to fault him after winning his first two starts impressively. Won last in 1:08 3/5. Still hasn't been over 6 1/2 furlongs, but his pedigree is very strong top and bottom. By Kentucky Derby runner-up Menifee, out of a Gone West mare, and dam's broodmare sire is Graustark. Trained by Ted West, he definitely is a live one to keep an eye on.

12 -- CONSOLIDATOR – With seven starts under him, he has plenty of bottom. Ran a solid race in the BC Juvenile, finishing fourth, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths. Pedigree says he should handle 1 1/4 miles, but he has to show a bit more stretch kick and be more consistent. Wayne Lukas' best hope as of now.

13 -- LOST IN THE FOG – How fast is this guy? His speed numbers in his first two starts are on another planet. Five furlongs in the mud at Golden Gate in :56 4/5, winning by 7 1/2 lengths? Six-and-a-half furlongs at Turf Paradise in 1:13 2/5, winning by 14 3/4 lengths? Is it possible he's too fast? Well, he should have no stamina problems on the sire side, and definitely will have none on his dam's side. So, who knows just what kind of freak this colt may be.

14 -- GIACOMO – Solid fast-closing second in the Hollywood Futurity. Not many 1 1/4-mile influences, if any, in his pedigree, which is speed dominated. But sire Holy Bull did manage to win the Travers (gr. I) and he's about due for a breakout horse. Big closing kick and improving.

15 -- RUSH BAY – Still waiting for him to start working again. Right running style, right pedigree, and his second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (gr. II) was an excellent effort coming off a maiden victory. Still green and has lots of room for improvement. Trained by Tom Amoss.

16--DIAMOND ISLE – He's by sprinter Gilded Time, but absolutely love his female family, and he runs like he wants more distance. Solid placings in the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) and Miller Draft Cradle (gr. III). But, need to see him on the work tab soon. Hasn't worked since early October. Kenny McPeek always seems to have at least one good one at this point.

17 -- GREATER GOOD – Was visually impressive winning the Kentucky Jockey Club. He has a ton of speed in his pedigree, but he's a consistent closer. We'll just have to see how far he wants to go.

18 -- PATRIOT ACT – Has the dubious honor of being the most accomplished maiden in the country. But this colt possesses a push-button move that has seen him put in two electrifying moves on the turn, including one that carried him to a second-place finish in the Breeders' Futurity. Also right there with Sun King in Belmont maiden. Now, he just needs to recover from a mediocre maiden effort at Keeneland. Working steadily at Fair Grounds.

19--DON'T GET MAD – Talk about a big kick, this son of Stephen Got Even really turned on the afterburners in both his victories at Churchill Downs, and could be an exciting colt to watch as the distances stretch out. Trained by Paul McGee, brother-in-law of Declan's Moon's trainer Ron Ellis.

20 -- BETTER THAN BONDS – Couldn't run with Rockport Harbor when a distant third in the Nashua, but came right back to win the What a Pleasure at Calder in fine style. Trainer Bob Reinacher used to command the potent Greentree horses; this could be his comeback horse. Good blend of speed and stamina.

Plenty more live ones from this deep crop of 2-year-olds. Patrick Biancone has impressive allowance winner SPANISH CHESTNUT to go along with SCIPION and highly regarded maiden CHEKHOV, both of whom are working super at Santa Anita. Rick Violette looks to have a runner in Big A maiden winner DEAREST MON, who is up to 7 furlongs in his works at Palm Meadows; Todd Pletcher is high on Unbridled-Serena's Song maiden winner, HARLINGTON, who is training steadily at Palm Meadows; The stoutly bred PREMIUM TAP, a 9-length maiden winner, is back working at Payson Park for John Kimmel; Zito unleashed another runner in recent Calder maiden winner ANDROMEDA'S HERO; also keep an eye on Zito's maiden runner-up NOBLE CAUSEWAY; Another live Calder horse is HIGH FLY, impressive winner of both his starts; Baffert looks to have a strong second-stringer in allowance winner CHIPS ARE DOWN; Futurity (gr. II) winner PARK AVENUE BALL back working at Palm Meadows; Another well-bred McGaughey colt, SURVIVALIST, has begun working at Gulfstream; Seattle Slew colt, BILOXI PALACE, has won two in a row at Fair Grounds for Dan Peitz; A.P. Indy maiden winner, DEPUTY INDY, turning in one sharp work after another at Palm Meadows for Stan Hough; George Weaver has an exciting colt in Calder maiden winner DEVIL AT SEA; Champagne (gr. I) winner PROUD ACCOLADE has some fence mending to do, but is still a talented colt; Stakes-winning PAVO, trained by Jennifer Pedersen, could be The Man at Aqueduct this winter, along with hard-knocking TANI MARU, trained by Tom Bush; Bobby Frankel Palm Meadows-based colt, VITRUVIAN, likely headed back to dirt after grass defeat; Canadian colt to watch is GET DOWN, winner of both his starts.