03/11/2005 12:00AM

Declan's Moon hurt and off Derby trail

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Unbeaten Declan's Moon is out of training for at least 60 days because of an injured knee.

The curse of the 2-year-old champion reared up and struck again on Friday when the undefeated Declan's Moon, last year's Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male and the favorite for the May 7 Kentucky Derby, was declared out of the Derby with a small fracture in his left knee.

The injury, according to trainer Ron Ellis, will take Declan's Moon out of training for at least 60 days, thus forcing him to skip the Triple Crown. It also continues an inglorious streak for 2-year-old champions. Not since Spectacular Bid won the Kentucky Derby in 1979 has a 2-year-old champ returned the following spring to capture the Derby.

Churchill Downs early Friday morning immediately suspended betting on Declan's Moon in Pool 2 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which closes Sunday. After the first day's betting on Thursday, Declan's Moon was the second choice at 5-1, right behind Afleet Alex. A total of $5,946 was bet Thursday on Declan's Moon in Pool 2. In last month's Pool 1, Declan's Moon was the shortest price among individual horses at 9-1, with $48,415 wagered on him.

Declan's Moon - owned by Mace and Samantha Siegel - won all four of his starts last year, including the Hollywood Futurity, and won his 3-year-old debut last Saturday in the Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita. Ellis said Declan's Moon was fine physically in the first 48 hours after the race, but then some heat was detected in the left knee. Subsequent X-rays taken by Dr. Herb Warren revealed the fracture.

"Everybody says to enjoy the ride, but it's tough to enjoy when you can fall off the cliff at any time," Ellis said Friday morning. "The fortunate thing is that it's not serious. It definitely can heal up in 60 days. The problem is that for the Derby, we don't have those 60 days.

"He cooled out perfect after the race, and he's still not in any discomfort. But we monitor him closely, and we found some heat in his knee, and some minimal swelling. He had never had it before, and it was noticeable because his right knee and his ankles and cannon bones were ice cold, so you can tell the difference."

Ellis said that Dr. Warren consulted with two other prominent veterinarians, Dr. Vince Baker and Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith.

"It's a non-displaced chip off the distal radius," Ellis said. "You can see a line where there's going to be a chip. You could probably get another race or two out of him with it - and it's a tough thing to back off when you're that close to the Derby - but anything we'd do now, if we went on, would compromise him down the line. He's a gelding. We want to get a few more good years out of him.

"At this point, he doesn't need surgery. But we're going to give him another week and see if that line on the X-ray becomes more evident, and starts to separate more. If that's the case, we'll go in and take it out."

Ellis has another top 3-year-old in Don't Get Mad, the San Vicente Stakes runner-up, who runs next in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 19. "He's appropriately named for me today," Ellis said. "I'm walking around here saying, 'don't get mad, don't get mad.' "

Ellis admitted the setback was emotionally difficult. "We were so close, and, with the exception of that, he was physically and mentally right where I wanted him," he said.

But Ellis kept up his usual good cheer through the pain. "We've still got Cigar's record to point at," he said ruefully, referring to Cigar's 16-race winning streak.