11/22/2004 12:00AM

All bright side to this Moon


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Much as he would like to reach around and pound himself on the back, Ron Ellis is deferring all credit for Declan's Moon until the day the trainer has to break a serious sweat.

"It really wasn't that stressful," Ellis confessed Monday morning. "I couldn't believe it was all working out just like I wanted it to."

Engrave that one in stone. Of all the things that can go wrong in the world or training horses, something usually does. That is why Ellis allowed himself a rare measure of inner peace last Saturday at the sight of Del Mar Futurity winner Declan's Moon cruising professionally through seven furlongs to win the Hollywood Prevue by two, shading 1:22 in the process.

Victor Espinoza, the lucky man in the saddle, did little more than nudge his mount on the neck somewhere around the turn. The whip was mere decoration. With his long, elegant strides under firm control, Declan's Moon described a young horse in growing awareness of his own considerable abilities. Enjoying the view, the audience is hungry for more.

That will come soon enough, or Dec. 18, to be more precise, in the Hollywood Futurity at 1 1/16 miles. A mile and one-sixteenth is something Declan's Moon has yet to accomplish, after three flawless starts at 5 1/2, seven, and seven furlongs.

But while there are countless examples of precocious young runners who have failed to make the leap - recent Del Mar Futurity winners Officer and Siphonizer come immediately to mind - there is something more substantial about the way Declan's Moon has handled the preliminary sprints that raises hopes for the future.

"It's that stride," Ellis said. "That's why I've always felt he was going to be a two-turn horse. He kind of reminds me of a left-handed hitter with a big, long, looping kind of swing. You think, how's he ever going to be able to hit a fastball? But they do.

"With him, there's times I actually feel kind of guilty. I think, 'You know, there's nothing really tricky I have to do with this guy.' He gallops so nice. He floats across the track. Sure, you take care of the regular things. But there's nothing extraordinary we have to do with him. I guess that's the way the good ones are."

The good ones also get the blood boiling. While Ellis might have stifled a yawn watching Declan's Moon do his thing, his soon-to-be 14-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, bounced up and down and shrieked to the skies as if the Backstreet Boys were treating her to a private show, while co-owner Samantha Siegel looked on with delight. Call it the first wave of Declanmania.

"It just shows you, this business isn't about money all the time," the trainer said. "Here's a $100,000 race, and you can get as excited as if you won a million-dollar race because of the potential of what's to come, and because it validates what you thought might be there."

Declan's Moon spent Monday morning with a lazy walk around the Ellis shed row, showing no particular effects from his Prevue effort. Meanwhile, in another corner of the Hollywood backstretch, his prime opponent for the Hollywood Futurity was cooling out from a five-furlong work.

That would be Wilko, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Lone Star Park. Now trained by Craig Dollase for owner Paul Reddam, Wilko is busy these days shedding his northern European coat and learning the California ropes, although a 2-year-old colt with 11 starts to his name is probably tough to faze.

"I know - 11 starts - I keep thinking about that," Dollase said. "Is there an end to this? Does he need a break? I can't see why, though. He's a very sound horse, knock on wood."

Wilko, a son of Awesome Again, might be a genetic throwback - one of those old-school Thoroughbreds who can stand the gaff of a long 2-year-old campaign and keep going at the age of 3.

"You never know," Dollase said. "So far he's holding his weight, he likes to train, and he's very competitive. This morning he sat in behind another horse, tracked him, and went by easily at the end. Did it real nice, too. Five-eighths in 1:01 and change. So it looks like he's taking to the dirt here really well."

Dollase was on hand to scout Declan's Moon in the Prevue. There were no real surprises.

"I thought it was impressive," Dollase said. "He handled those horses pretty easily. The only question is, he's never gone two turns. We know our horse can, so it should be a pretty interesting race. We're looking forward to it."

So are we all. For only the third time in history, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile is being be asked to validate that performance with one more high-stakes appearance at age 2. Success Express and Brocco both lost at Hollywood.

As for Wilko, his most notable victory before the Breeders' Cup came in the Custom Kitchens Novice Stakes at Yarmouth, which is certainly no embarrassment, especially for those good people at Custom Kitchens.

Still, you like to see a champion do just a bit more. If Wilko is up to the challenge, beating Declan's Moon would qualify.