02/22/2005 1:00AM

Declan's Moon ready for his first real test


LAS VEGAS - Saturday, March 5, is a crucial day for Kentucky Derby aspirants, with undefeated 2-year-old champion Declan's Moon making his 3-year-old debut in the Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita, and Gulfstream Park offering a delicious card headed by the Fountain of Youth and Swale stakes.

Santa Catalina Stakes

All eyes will be on juvenile champion Declan's Moon. Trainer Ron Ellis has him ready to win at 1 1/16 miles off a 2 1/2-month layoff, and his task was made easier when trainer Craig Dollase announced that Wilko will probably make his 3-year-old debut in the San Felipe on March 19. Giacomo will pass the race as well.

The Santa Catalina should set up nicely for Declan's Moon, with several speed horses in the race: Going Wild, winner of the Sham Stakes; Fusaichi Rock Star, winner of the San Vicente Stakes; and Spanish Chestnut, winner of the San Rafael Stakes.

Going Wild showed he is much more than a sprinter in winning the nine-furlong Sham Stakes, but the son of Golden Missile must learn to rate if he is to get 1 1/4 miles. His pedigree screams stamina, but thus far he has been a one-dimensional speedster. While Golden Missile (A.P. Indy) was a stakes winner who was able to get 1 1/4 miles, his first-crop runners have displayed high speed. Going Wild descends from a classy female family that has had success in the Triple Crown. His second dam, Nureyev's Best, is a half-sister to Really Blue, the dam of 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, and his third dam, Meadow Blue, is a full sister to 1969 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince.

Fountain of Youth Stakes

Because of Gulfstream's redesigned oval, the Fountain of Youth, formerly run at 1 1/16 miles, will be run at 1 1/8 miles for the first time. If Galloping Grocer runs, he should still attract plenty of support despite his fourth-place finish in the Whirlaway Stakes. Galloping Grocer is a much better animal than his Whirlaway performance suggested, but I am very skeptical that a son of speed influence A. P Jet will be as brilliant at the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles.

The one-two finishers in the Holy Bull Stakes, Closing Argument and Kansas City Boy, are probables for the Fountain of Youth, and High Fly (who would be making his debut for Nick Zito) is also possible.

Closing Argument has an SPx2 pedigree, getting speed from both sides (Successful Appeal/Mr. Greeley). Successful Appeal, last year's leading freshman sire, was a sprinter-miler by renowned speed influence Valid Appeal (by In Reality). Successful Appeal's offspring inherited his speed, and there are obvious concerns about their ability to be as effective at 1 1/4 miles.

Kansas City Boy, third in the Lecomte Stakes before his runner-up finish in the Holy Bull, is by Boston Harbor, a 2-year-old champion whose sire (Capote) and grandsire (Seattle Slew) were also champions at 2. That he has performed well at nine furlongs may be attributable to his damsire, 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed.

Two interesting colts expected for the Fountain of Youth are Bandini and Defer. Bandini has reeled off back-to-back impressive victories, and the son of Fusaichi Pegasus appears to have the most upside of anyone in this year's field. A nine-length winner in a nine-furlong allowance on the Holy Bull undercard, he used his rail post to take advantage of a strong rail and speed bias that day, but his pedigree suggests his lopsided victory was for real. His second dam, Hail Atlantis, won the Santa Anita Oaks, and his fourth dam is Moccasin, undefeated champion 2-year-old filly of 1965, who was also co-Horse of the Year along with Roman Brother.

After winning his maiden debut, Defer chased Rockport Harbor in the Nashua Stakes and then won the Laurel Futurity. He was fourth behind Proud Accolade in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes, but Defer, an impeccably bred son of Danzig, should appreciate stretching out in distance. He is out of a full sister to stakes winners Educated Risk and Diamond, and a half-sister to champion Inside Information.

Swale Stakes

The exciting Lost in the Fog heads the seven-furlong Swale and will be favored off his Sunshine Millions Dash victory. Zito may use this race as the springboard for Sun King, a Charismatic colt who will surely be better at distances over one mile. High Limit, an undefeated Maria's Mon colt, may use this race for his 3-year-old debut for Bobby Frankel. His dam is an RF (Rasmussen Factor), inbred 2x4 to the influential broodmare Tamerett. Joining this group may be Straight Line and Vicarage.

Key nine-furlong allowance?

A nine-furlong allowance on the undercard may yield some serious Derby horses. Zito has two very promising colts, Noble Causeway (Giant's Causeway) and Andromeda's Hero (Fusaichi Pegasus), who must show that they belong on the Triple Crown trail. Noble Causeway won a maiden race at this distance in his last start, while Andromeda's Hero finished fourth (but was moved up to third via the disqualification of Qureall) in his first start at 3. Andromeda's Hero should love two turns and is among the best-bred colts of his generation. His fifth dam is a full sister to 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault, and his eighth dam is a full sister to Man o' War.

Survivalist, another son of Danzig and a stablemate of Defer, finished third ahead of Andromeda's Hero and was placed second via the same disqualification. Survivalist, whose dam is a full sister to Seeking the Gold, should also benefit from added distance.

Diamond Isle, third in the Breeders' Futurity in his last start, demands respect, but he is by brilliant influence and 2-year-old champion Gilded Time, and should be kept to distances under nine furlongs.