12/17/2012 4:18PM

Declan's Moon a natural talent as sport horse

Retired Racehorse Training Project
Declan’s Moon, champion juvenile of 2004, will participate in the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100-Day Challenge.

Declan’s Moon, the 2004 champion juvenile, is preparing for a comeback − but not at the racetrack.

A 10-year-old Malibu Moon gelding, Declan’s Moon has returned to training for a potential new career as a sport horse after almost five years in retirement at Mike and Josh Pons’s Merryland Farm in Hydes, Md. He is one of four ex-racehorses participating in the Retired Racehorse Training Project’s 100-Day Challenge, during which RRTP founder Steuart Pittman and his training team at Maryland’s Dodon Farm will teach the horses basic dressage and how to jump and will take them hacking across the countryside − all skills that will make them more marketable as three-day event horses, show jumpers, and foxhunters.

The other three horses are Gunport, a 3-year-old Mizzen Mast filly who raced once for Sagamore Farm; Suave Jazz, a 9-year-old, two-time stakes winner by Suave Prospect who earned $651,062 in 70 starts; and Alluring Punch, a 3-year-old Two Punch gelding who won a maiden claiming race. Pittman will provide updates on the horses’ progress, including training videos, at www.retiredracehorsetraining.org.

After judged performances by guest riders early next year at the Maryland Horse World Expo on Jan. 18-20 and Pennsylvania Horse World Expo on Feb. 21-24, three of the horses − but not Declan’s Moon − will be offered for sale.

Owner Samantha Siegel confirmed that Declan’s Moon will always remain in her family’s ownership, though he could go on to compete under a lease deal with a rider or trainer.

“He’s our first, our only champion, and when horses are good to you, you need to be good to them in return,” Siegel said.
So far, Pittman said, Declan’s Moon is showing outstanding potential for a new career.

“Josh told me, ‘You know, we have Declan’s Moon out in a field, and he’s the best-moving horse. He moves like a dressage horse,’ ” Pittman said. “He’s unbelievable. Seriously, I scour the earth trying to find horses of that quality. He just floats. Someone is going to want to clone him, I think, to breed sport horses.

“To have a horse that moves the way he does, who also is the fastest horse of his crop this year and has the speed and stride and guts to be a cross-country horse, he’ll obviously attract eventers,” Pittman said. “But I think the dressage people and the show hunters will love him. He’s capable of being a superstar in any of those sports, I think.

“What we want to show is that what’s being produced by the Thoroughbred industry is still the ultimate sport horse, even though that’s not what these racehorses are being bred for,” Pittman added. “Declan’s Moon is built exactly like a sport horse. He’s exactly what warmblood breeders are trying to achieve.”

The Siegel family’s Jay Em Ess Stable paid $125,000 for Declan’s Moon at the 2003 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling sale. He more than paid that back − and fast. Declan’s Moon broke his maiden by five lengths at Del Mar as a juvenile and then went on to win his next four races, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity, in which he locked up his divisional title by beating Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Wilko, Champagne winner Proud Accolade, as well as future Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo.

Days after his final stakes win, in the 2005 Santa Catalina in his 3-year-old debut, veterinarians discovered a chip in his left knee, and Declan’s Moon underwent surgery to remove it. But when he came back, he developed a wind problem and never returned to his previous form. Neither Siegel nor Pons thinks Declan’s Moon’s previous wind problem will be an issue in any new career.

“I don’t think he’d ever have to run flat out like he did when he was racing, and that was when it was a problem for him,” Siegel said.
Siegel and her father, Mace, retired Declan’s Moon to the Pons family’s Merryland Farm in June 2008. Since then, Declan’s Moon has been turned out there, Mike Pons said.

“We needed a mascot, if you will, for Merryland Farm, and here was a Maryland-bred Eclipse champion and Malibu Moon’s poster-child in his early years,” Pons said. “So here is the only Eclipse Award winner in Maryland.”

Declan’s Moon was turned out with what Pons called “our version of the Gas House Gang, with Perfect Moon and some other Malibu Moons that have raced for us over the years and done well. He’d earned his spot.”

When the Ponses approached Siegel about putting Declan’s Moon in the 100-Day Challenge, she was enthusiastic and agreed he might enjoy having a job again.

During his retirement, the Ponses occasionally had tried to ride Declan’s Moon, Mike Pons said, but without much success.

“It seemed like he had that call to the post in the back of his mind, and if you tried to introduce him to a jump or anything, he’d just want to take off like he was at Santa Anita again,” Pons said. “I told Steuart, ‘Here’s the most famous of your horses, but it might be more difficult than you think.’ But we thought he’s the only Eclipse Award winner here in the state, and what a great opportunity to showcase what Thoroughbreds can do. He’s plenty smart enough. He can figure it all out.”

So far, so good, said Pittman, who started riding Declan’s Moon on Dec. 3.

“When I got on him for the first time, he was a good boy,” Pittman said. “I wasn’t sure, because he’s quite studdish for a gelding. We couldn’t even catch him when I went to look at him with Josh Pons. But he let me on him, and we trotted around, and he’s really a cool horse. He’s really got an unusual air about him that he thinks he’s regal. He floats around everywhere he goes, posing.”

Said Pons: “I think there will be people who would go to shows just to see him. And that’s what the program needs, a headliner. I’m so grateful for Samantha and Josh saying, ‘We’ve got somebody who’d be perfect.’ ”