12/18/2004 12:00AM

Declan's Moon best in Hollywood Futurity

Email
Horsephotos
Declan's Moon wins the Hollywood Futurity on Saturday at Hollywood Park.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After 50 weeks of uncertainty, clarity at last was reached on Saturday in determining the nation's champion 2-year-old male. In a title-deciding match, the unbeaten Declan's Moon turned back Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko and Champagne Stakes winner Proud Accolade in the Grade 1, $449,500 .

Declan's Moon ($4.40), the 6-5 favorite, was challenged by Wilko on the final turn, and by Giacomo in the stretch, but he beat back those rivals to prevail by one length while pricking his ears in the final sixteenth, as if he had more to give. Giacomo nosed out Wilko for second. Proud Accolade, again failing to handle two turns, faded to finish fifth in the field of seven. Bushwacker bolted on the final turn and was eased. General Jumbo was scratched Saturday morning.

The win completed a perfect 4-for-4 season for Declan's Moon. In the summer, he beat the colt then ranked as the nation's best 2-year-old, Roman Ruler, in the Del Mar Futurity. And on Saturday, he stretched out around two turns to defeat the two winners of the other two major 2-year-old races of the final quarter of the year.

"I think we eliminated all doubt," said trainer Ron Ellis, who has expertly guided Declan's Moon this year. "He beat a solid field of horses. There's no doubt in my mind. I mean, he did everything. He won all his races. He ran fast. He's got good numbers, faster than anyone else."

Declan's Moon completed 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track in 1:41.63.

The Hollywood Futurity was run on a gorgeous, Indian Summer day. Declan's Moon, keen to get on with it, left the gate quickly and aggressively went for the lead. Bushwacker outsprinted him through the opening quarter-mile in 23.46 seconds, and half-mile in 46.13 seconds, but by the time the field neared the far turn, Declan's Moon had taken over.

With Proud Accolade to his outside, and Wilko creeping forward on his inside, Declan's Moon was surrounded heading into the far turn. The three Eclipse Award suitors were locked together. Proud Accolade was the first to yield. Declan's Moon then turned back Wilko, who shifted to his outside to make another run after entering the stretch. Giacomo ranged up in the middle of the course. But Victor Espinoza, riding Declan's Moon with confidence, put away his whip just outside the sixteenth pole and hand rode Declan's Moon to the wire.

"He was putting his ears up and down, and I had to get after him a couple of times to get his attention," Espinoza said. "It was definitely easier than it might have looked."

Wilko came up with a quarter crack on the inside of his left front hoof the day before the race. His trainer, Craig Dollase, said it was impossible to quantify how much that might have impacted his colt, but noted Wilko was "a little late switching his leads in the stretch."

Corey Nakatani, who rode Wilko, believed Declan's Moon put him in tight on the final turn. "He bumped me and I bounced off the fence," Nakatani said. While galloping out, Nakatani asked the outrider to inform the stewards to put a hold on the race.

But after returning to dismount from Wilko, Nakatani had a testy exchange via the winner's circle telephone with steward Tom Ward, and never formally asked for an inquiry.

"We looked at the race before they came back, and didn't see anything," Ward said. "I asked him if he wanted us to look at it again and put it up. He said, 'It sounds like you've made up your mind.' We thought, if anything, he went into a spot he shouldn't have been. But we didn't see anything."