Updated on 09/17/2011 8:55PM

Every step counts for Declan's Moon

Declan's Moon makes his much anticipated 3-year-old debut in Saturday's Santa Catalina.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Along with all the anxiety and pressure he might face Saturday afternoon in bringing out Declan's Moon for his 3-year-old debut, trainer Ron Ellis is walking a tightrope. Ellis wants Declan's Moon, last year's champion 2-year-old, to come out firing in the Grade 2, $200,000 at Santa Anita and keep his unbeaten record intact. Yet he is using the Santa Catalina and the April 9 Santa Anita Derby as preps for this spring's ultimate goal, the May 7 Kentucky Derby.

That is the balancing act Ellis will be trying to navigate, but he said he believes Declan's Moon has the raw talent to win, even if he's not cranked up for his absolute best.

"It's not like this is the last time he's ever going to run, so we haven't pushed him," Ellis said. "He's worked within himself. I think he's in the 90- to 95-percent range of being fit. I think his talent will carry him through.

"I've said I think he has a chance to be listed in history as one of the best, so it goes through your mind - what if he never loses? I feel an awful lot of pressure trying to win with him. I'd love to keep him undefeated. One thing you do is size up the competition and decide how hard to train him. I don't anticipate this being his toughest test, so I haven't trained him for such a race. But I need to make sure he's fit enough so he won't bounce. It's a fine line. There's a bunch of different things to consider. There's a lot more things to think about when it's the undefeated champ. It enters your mind, his being undefeated."

It will be on the minds of the fans at Santa Anita, at simulcast sites, and those watching a national telecast on ABC-Sports, all of whom will want to see how the pro-tem favorite for the Kentucky Derby does in his first start since winning the Eclipse Award. The Santa Catalina, the fifth race on an 11-race card highlighted by the Santa Anita Handicap, will be shown by ABC as part of a one-hour telecast, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern, that includes the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Swale Stakes from Gulfstream Park.

The 1 1/16-mile Santa Catalina drew a field of six, with Declan's Moon on the outside. Just to his inside are Going Wild, who won the Sham Stakes, and Spanish Chestnut, who won the San Rafael Stakes. Those three horses each carry 122 pounds. The race's three longshots - Go Coyote Joe, Snack, and Juliesugardaddy - have the three inside posts and carry 115 pounds.

Declan's Moon, Going Wild, and Spanish Chestnut all like to race on or near the lead. Declan's Moon has proven that he can sit just off the pace and finish. Considering his outside draw, he figures to stalk, but there ought to be a fair amount of race riding going on to his left.

Going Wild has won his last three starts, all at Santa Anita, all while leading from start to finish. He comes off a brave victory in the 1 1/8-mile Sham, in which he turned back the bids of several rivals in the final furlong.

"I thought he had every right to let them go by, but he didn't," said his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. "His lead changes weren't good, but he had the ability to get it done. Going from six furlongs to a mile and an eighth isn't easy, so he'll be much better because of that, and he's really been focused coming out of that race."

Spanish Chestnut has the speed to take the lead, or sit just behind Going Wild if Going Wild sets off at a rapid pace. Gary Stevens, who will ride Spanish Chestnut, will have to make quick decisions as soon as they leave the gate. In an attempt to take some of the edge off Spanish Chestnut, trainer Patrick Biancone breezed him three furlongs in 35 seconds Thursday morning at Santa Anita.

Snack was privately purchased by Paul Reddam and Mark Schlesinger after capturing a pair of stakes races at Turfway Park this winter. This will be his first start for Doug O'Neill, the meet's leading trainer.

Go Coyote Joe and Juliesugardaddy are both 1 for 3 and were defeated in first-level allowance races last time out.

The field

Santa Catalina Stakes
Purse: Grade 2; $200,000; 1 1/16 miles

1Go Coyote GoM. Pedroza11520-1
2SnackC. Nakatani11512-1
3JuliesugardaddyA. Bisono11530-1
4Spanish ChestnutG. Stevens1223-1
5Going WildR. Bejarano1229-5
6Declan's MoonV. Espinoza1221-1

* Odds Michael Hammersly