09/08/2004 12:00AM

Declan's Moon beats Roman Ruler

Declan's Moon (inside) out duels Roman Ruler in the homestretch to win the Del Mar Futurity by a neck.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Declan's Moon needed to raise his game in order to beat the fastest gun in the West, and he did so on Wednesday at Del Mar, capturing the Grade 2, $245,000 in an old-fashioned shootout against the highly regarded Roman Ruler.

Declan's Moon and Roman Ruler hooked up at the top of the stretch, and put on a thrilling duel in the homestretch. They were head and head while bounding clear of the field, but Declan's Moon, racing on the inside, out-finished Roman Ruler to win by a neck.

It was another 9 1/2 lengths back to third-place Swiss Lad. Gentleman Count, the early pacesetter, faded to finish last in the field of four. Allright, Chandtrue, and Notarized all were scratched earlier in the day.

Racing over a track rated fast, Declan's Moon ($14.40) covered seven furlongs in a swift 1:21.29 under Victor Espinoza. The time was a stakes record.

"That was a real racehorse he beat today," said Ron Ellis, who trains Declan's Moon for the Jay Em Ess Stable of Mace and Samantha Siegel.

Declan's Moon had won his lone previous start on July 31, when he beat maidens by five lengths in a 14-1 surprise. But he took a backseat in the pre-race buildup to Roman Ruler, who had won both his starts in breathtaking fashion, including this track's Best Pal Stakes on Aug. 15. Roman Ruler was sent off at 1-10, with Declan's Moon the second choice at 6-1.

Gentleman Count led through fractions of 22.25 seconds for the opening quarter and 44.73 seconds for a half-mile. Declan's Moon was second with three furlongs to go, and when Roman Ruler ranged up outside him, they moved as a team to set the stage for a terrific stretch drive.

Declan's Moon is a gelding by Malibu Moon. Samantha Siegel purchased him for $125,000 at a yearling sale in Maryland one year ago.

Siegel said she wasn't worried that Declan's Moon was gelded because "this was a racehorse."