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Updated on 09/17/2011 9:54PM
Time to keep the ball rolling
ARCADIA, Calif. - This is an anxious time for trainers whose horses shined at 2 but have yet to race at 3. Last week, it was Sun King's turn to show if he had progressed, and he ran better than even his trainer, Nick Zito, could have expected. In two weeks, it will be time for Afleet Alex, Rockport Harbor, and Wilko to make their 2005 debuts. But this week, all eyes will be on Declan's Moon, the gelding who was last year's champion 2-year-old.
Declan's Moon will take his first step toward the May 7 Kentucky Derby, and put his unbeaten record on the line, in the Grade 2, $200,000 on Saturday at Santa Anita. The 1 1/16-mile Santa Catalina drew a field of six on Wednesday morning, with Declan's Moon landing the outside post. His two main rivals, Sham Stakes winner Going Wild and San Rafael Stakes winner Spanish Chestnut, are lined up right next to him. Those three will carry 122 pounds. The race's three longshots - Go Coyote Joe, Snack, and Juliesugardaddy - drew the three inside posts, in that order, and will each carry 115 pounds.
Go Coyote Joe, who has won once in three starts and most recently finished fifth of seven in a first-level allowance race, worked five furlongs in 1:02.40 on Wednesday morning.
Declan's Moon has not raced since capturing the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 18 for his fourth victory. The Santa Catalina will be his lone start before the Santa Anita Derby on April 9, and those two races will serve as his preps for the Kentucky Derby.
"He's a tall horse to start with, and I've always been concerned about keeping weight on him," said Ron Ellis, the trainer of Declan's Moon. "He's a lighter-framed horse. I don't think he'll ever be a heavy type of horse. The time off has done him good. He's feeling good and acting good."
Ellis has always been mindful of Declan's Moon's constitution. After a gutsy victory by Declan's Moon in last summer's Del Mar Futurity, Ellis elected to bypass the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and point for the Hollywood Prevue and Hollywood Futurity, believing that would allow Declan's Moon his best chance to develop.
Ellis is circumspect, so the schedule he has mapped out for Declan's Moon is true to his nature. Two years ago, Ellis was forced to put Atswhatimtalknbout through an accelerated schedule to make the Derby after a January debut. He finished fourth and never raced again.
"I prefer a lighter schedule," Ellis said.
Given the luxury of time with Declan's Moon, Ellis decided to make full use of it. He also made a good move by keeping Declan's Moon at Hollywood Park this winter, believing that track's surface would hold up better in wet weather if the rains came. In case you haven't checked The Weather Channel in the past two months, they came.
"One of the reasons we chose to stay at Hollywood is because it would minimize the days we could lose training," Ellis said. "They're not racing in the afternoon, like at Santa Anita, so they can leave the track sealed in the afternoon. We haven't missed that many days."
In fact, Ellis was so far ahead in his preparation with Declan's Moon that he was not alarmed by a training alteration last week. He had originally wanted to work Declan's Moon on Feb. 22 and then this past Monday, but wet weather washed out workouts on Feb. 22, so Ellis instead worked Declan's Moon seven furlongs last Saturday.
"He's had two good seven-furlong works and galloped out a good mile both times," Ellis said. "So far, so good. Everything's gone according to plan."
The Santa Catalina will be televised live by ABC in a one-hour program, beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, that will also feature the Grade 2, $300,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes and Grade 2, $150,000 Swale Stakes from Gulfstream Park.
High Fly, who was beaten as the favorite in last month's Holy Bull Stakes, will make his first start since being transferred to Zito's barn in the 1 1/8-mile Fountain of Youth. His rivals are expected to include Bandini, a runaway allowance winner at Gulfstream on the Holy Bull undercard, and Kansas City Boy, the Holy Bull runner-up.
The unbeaten Lost in the Fog is returning to Gulfstream from northern California for the seven-furlong Swale, in which he will be a heavy favorite against the likes of the comebacking Straight Line, winner of last fall's Iroquois Stakes.
The other significant race of this weekend is the $100,000 Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park, a 1 1/16-mile prep for the March 26 Lane's End Stakes. Magna Graduate and Ultimate are expected to head that field.
In other Derby developments:
* Greater Good worked five furlongs in hand in 1:02.81 on Wednesday at Oaklawn Park in his first drill since winning the track's $100,000 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 19. The move was one of two he will have before taking on Afleet Alex and Rockport Harbor in the Grade 3, $250,000 Rebel on March 19.
Greater Good came onto the track a few minutes before 7 a.m. Central and backtracked under jockey John McKee. Greater Good worked in company with 3-year-old stablemate Copy My Notes in an effort to keep him more focused, said his trainer, Bob Holthus.
Greater Good, on the rail, and Copy My Notes traveled as a team through fractions of 25.84 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 38.79 for three furlongs, and 51.05 for the half-mile. Greater Good finished about a length in front of his workmate and galloped out six furlongs in 1:15.72.
"I thought he worked well," said Holthus, who trains Greater Good for Lewis Lakin. "I'm quite happy. A week from Saturday we'll put a good three-quarter-mile work in him, and that will be it."
* Galloping Grocer, who was upset as the favorite in the Whirlaway Stakes, will remain at Aqueduct for the March 19 Gotham Stakes and will have a new rider in Mike Luzzi, trainer Dominick Schettino said.
* Giacomo, who most recently finished third in the Sham Stakes, breezed six furlongs in 1:12.80 on Wednesday morning at Hollywood Park. He is expected to make his next start in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 19.
* High Limit, unbeaten in two starts last year for trainer Tony Dutrow, will make his first start for trainer Bobby Frankel in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds on March 12, Frankel said.
- additional reporting by David Grening, Marty McGee, and Mary Rampellini
WHO'S HOT: Golden Shine, an impressive winner of a recent allowance race at Santa Anita, barely missed making the list last week, so with the defection of Sort It Out this week, he was the unanimous choice of the Derby Watch Committee to be put on the top 25. Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, made Golden Shine 30-1 on his future line. Sun King, a dazzling winner of his comeback last week at Gulfstream Park, is now 10-1 on Watchmaker's line after being 15-1 a week ago.
WHO'S NOT: Sort It Out, the Whirlaway Stakes winner, was dropped from the list after his new trainer, Bob Baffert, said the colt would need a little extra time before returning to action. "I've got to get some more weight on him," Baffert said.
ON THE BUBBLE: With four preps of significance on Saturday - the Battaglia, Fountain of Youth, Santa Catalina, and Swale - some late-bloomers could make their mark, including Ultimate, who runs in the Battaglia at Turfway. His trainer, Nick Zito, also has Andromeda's Hero, who captured last week's Sam Davis at Tampa Bay.