04/24/2007 12:00AM

Still trying to regain old magic


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The trainer of Declan's Moon wonders the same as everyone. That is, whatever happened to the champion 2-year-old of 2004, and what can bettors expect when Declan's Moon returns Thursday at Hollywood Park?

"I have no idea," trainer Ron Ellis said. "After the last race, I really have no idea."

Who does? After winning his first five starts and an Eclipse Award, Declan's Moon went into a prolonged tailspin. Arthroscopic surgery cut short his 3-year-old campaign, and Declan's Moon finished a sharp second in his comeback last July. It was his last good race.

Four subsequent starts include three last-place finishes, including his most recent start Jan. 20 at Golden Gate Fields. Afterward, Ellis and owners Mace and Samantha Siegel put Declan's Moon through a battery of tests that revealed no physical flaws.

Ellis suspects the problem is all in Declan's Moon's head. He said the horse is 100 percent physically, a notion corroborated by a string of sharp workouts. Ellis has been working Declan's Moon in company; his last two works were the fastest of the day - five furlongs from the gate one week ago in 58.40 seconds, six furlongs in 1:11.60 on April 12.

"Hopefully, it has stimulated his competitiveness," Ellis said. "He needs to show he's willing to run."

Jose Valdivia rides Declan's Moon in Thursday's 6 1/2-furlong allowance. Uncertainty surrounding the mental willingness of the 5-year-old Declan's Moon will persuade many bettors to look elsewhere. There are plenty from which to choose.

Jack's Kid is an obvious contender after posting his third consecutive triple-digit Beyer Figure while finishing second on March 24. But one problem - trainer Bob Hess backed off Jack's Kid after that race, and his only workout in the past month was a messed-up drill six days ago that Hess admits was too slow. Jack's Kid worked five furlongs in 1:05.

"He's fit, he gallops two miles every day, and he's been training [at Hollywood]," Hess said. But yes, Hess would have preferred a faster workout for Jack's Kid, who will be ridden by Michael Baze.

The allowance sprint is race 7 Thursday; the field includes two-time Cal-bred stakes winner Direct Connect, racing for the first time in 16 months. Trained by Paul Aguirre, Direct Connect will be ridden by apprentice Joe Talamo.

"I worked him; he's a monster," Talamo said.

The "now" horse is late-runner Soul City Slew, a Cushion Track specialist who enters with no concerns over current form. Other entrants are Gotaghostofachance, Zanzibar, Corazondelcampeon, and I'll Prey For You.