12/15/2004 1:00AM

Championship battle

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Wilko (above) will be the first BC Juvenile winner since Brocco in 1993 to run in the Hollywood Futurity. Declan's Moon and Proud Accolade, fellow top candidates for the 2-year-old Eclipse Award, are also in Saturday's big race.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Hollywood Park began its fall meeting in 1981, or, as it has come to be known, 3 BBC (Before Breeders' Cup). The Hollywood Futurity was one of the elite races of the meet, with a purse of $715,100. Two years later, in a move that made Dr. Evil proud, it topped one . . . million . . . dollars.

Besides big money, the Hollywood Futurity offered a chance in those BBC days to settle championships outside the fall meeting in New York. In 1982, the adventurous connections of Copelan decided to send their colt west in an attempt to wrap up the Eclipse Award. But Copelan was steamrolled by Roving Boy, who was named the champion 2-year-old colt.

Then, in Orwellian fashion, came 1984, and the Breeders' Cup. The landscape changed. Chief's Crown won the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and was named champion colt. So, too, Tasso and Capote the next two years. From 1984 to 2003, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner was the Eclipse Award winner 16 of 20 times. The Hollywood Futurity purse was slashed to $500,000 in 1992. It had been - ahem - eclipsed.

For the past 20 years, the Hollywood Futurity has often showcased future stars - such as Snow Chief, Best Pal, A.P. Indy, Real Quiet, and, last year, Lion Heart - but only once has it decided a title. In 1993, Brocco ran in the Hollywood Futurity after having won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But he was upset by Valiant Nature, and Eclipse Award voters decided instead on Dehere, who had swept three sprint stakes at Saratoga in the summer but was a distant eighth behind Brocco in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

This Saturday, however, the Hollywood Futurity returns to its BBC days. Because no 2-year-old emerged as a clear-cut leader during previous months, and because a European import making his dirt debut won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at odds of 28-1, the Eclipse Award is still out there. Three of the leading candidates for that honor - Declan's Moon, Proud Accolade, and Wilko - are set to decide the title in the Hollywood Futurity.

Declan's Moon is the probable favorite in the Grade 1 race. He has won all three of his starts, including the Del Mar Futurity and Hollywood Prevue. He was kept out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile because trainer Ron Ellis thought Declan's Moon needed more time to recover from the Del Mar Futurity. Ellis had no aspirations of winning a championship. That is, until the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was run, and the previously unheralded Wilko defeated divisional leaders Afleet Alex, Proud Accolade, and Roman Ruler.

"I didn't think about it until they crossed the line," Ellis said. "We weren't thinking about a championship. Usually, whoever wins the Breeders' Cup is the champion. Now, we look like we're geniuses."

Proud Accolade won the first three starts of his career before a dull sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup. It is unprecedented for trainer Todd Pletcher, who is based on the East Coast, to send his best 2-year-old to the Hollywood Futurity, but with a possible championship looming, there was a compelling reason to come.

"Obviously with the championship on the line, that's why we're here," said Michael McCarthy, the Pletcher assistant who has been with Proud Accolade since he traveled here three weeks ago.

Wilko had won twice in 10 starts in Great Britain before he was bought privately by owner Paul Reddam on the recommendation of London-based adviser Jamie McCalmont. Wilko's unproven dirt form made him a longshot in the Juvenile, and because he was an unknown quantity, his upset victory did not automatically land him the championship. Reddam, McCalmont, and Craig Dollase -- who has taken over from Jeremy Noseda as Wilko's trainer -- realize Eclipse voters want to see Wilko do it again. So, he will make his 12th start of the year.

"He came out of the Breeders' Cup well," Dollase said. "He's such a durable horse. He'll need a break sooner or later, but with everything on the line, there's no reason not to take a shot."

A victory is worth far more than the first-prize money. The colts Proud Accolade and Wilko would see their residual value increase exponentially with a championship. And though Declan's Moon is a gelding, there is residual value surrounding him, too. His young sire, the A.P. Indy stallion Malibu Moon, is owned by B. Wayne Hughes, one of Ellis's primary clients. Mace and Samantha Siegel, Ellis's other high-profile clients, own Declan's Moon.

"It's kind of an unusual circumstance, with one of my main clients owning the horse, and the other one owning the stallion. It's good karma," Ellis said. "Of course it wouldn't help Declan's Moon at stud, since he's a gelding, but it makes a big difference to Wayne, with him owning the stallion. So we've got an interest in that. He's a young stallion who's hot and on the rise."

If either Declan's Moon, Proud Accolade, or Wilko wins the Hollywood Futurity, he would be a deserving champion. Declan's Moon would be undefeated in four starts, with one Grade 1 victory. Proud Accolade would have a resume that also includes a victory in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes, in which he defeated Afleet Alex. And Wilko would have won the two biggest 2-year-old races of the final quarter of the year in North America.

There are others under consideration for the championship, but they are not here. Early divisional leader Roman Ruler lost to Declan's Moon in the Del Mar Futurity, then disappointed in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, so his stock has fallen. Afleet Alex was the most consistent runner on the East Coast, but he never has won around two turns, split two decisions with Proud Accolade, and lost to Wilko in their only head-to-head meeting.

It has come down to Declan's Moon, Proud Accolade, and Wilko. The last champion of the year will be determined on Saturday.

Juvenile vs. Futurity

Since the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 1984, no horse has won the Juvenile, the Hollywood Futurity, and the Eclipse Award as top 2-year-old colt.

YEARJUVENILEFUTURITYECLIPSE
2004Wilko - -

2003Action This DayLion HeartAction This Day
2002VindicationToccetVindication
2001JohannesburgSiphonicJohannesburg
2000Macho UnoPoint GivenMacho Uno
1999AneesCaptain SteveAnees
1998Answer LivelyTactical CatAnswer Lively
1997Favorite TrickReal QuietFavorite Trick
1996Boston HarborSwiss YodlerBoston Harbor
1995Unbridled's SongMatty GMaria's Mon
1994Timber CountryAfternoon DeelitesTimber Country
1993BroccoValiant NatureDehere
1992Gilded TimeRiver SpecialGilded Time
1991AraziA.P. IndyArazi
1990Fly So FreeBest PalFly So Free
1989RhythmGrand CanyonRhythm
1988Is It TrueKing GloriousEasy Goer
1987Success ExpressTejanoForty Niner
1986CapoteTemperate SilCapote
1985TassoSnow ChiefTasso
1984Chief's CrownStephan's OdysseyChief's Crown