03/08/2008 12:00AM

Tough test for medically restored trio


ARCADIA, Calif. - Veterinary subplots abound in the seventh race feature Monday at Santa Anita, where a salty field, including three key starters that enter with a surgical assist, will race 6 1/2 furlongs in the best third-level allowance or optional claiming race this winter.

The achievements of Declan's Moon, Peace Chant, and Hewitts are evident. Declan's Moon was 2-year-old champion of 2004; Peace Chant is graded stakes-placed; Hewitts's three-race win streak in allowance company suggests he could become a top horse.

Those three face likely favorite Soul City Slew and Grade 3 winner Sailors Sunset in a 10-runner field, and their performances hinge partly on equine medicine.

Declan's Moon is 6, and when he returns from a six-month layoff for trainer Ron Ellis, it will be his first start since throat surgery to correct a breathing disorder. He has a series of solid works, including a one-mile breeze to build up his air, but it remains to be seen if the corrective procedure will hold up during the stress of a race.

"It's one of those things that I'm not going to know if it works until he actually runs," Ellis said. "He's doing really well, but it might take a race or two to get his confidence back."

Declan's Moon has not raced since September, and has won just one of his last 10 starts after beginning his career with five consecutive victories.

Peace Chant has not been out since May, when he finished second as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park. He chipped an ankle in that race, underwent arthroscopic surgery, and has been off 10 months.

Peace Chant, who has won 3 of 6, runs well fresh. He won his maiden debut, and an entry-level allowance off a layoff, but Monday's race is tougher.

"He is training good, but he's a big, heavy horse and it wouldn't surprise me if he needed one," trainer Richard Mandella said.

Hewitts was a bilateral cryptorchid - both testicles were still inside him - when he won his second and third starts for trainer Bob Hess. But when Hewitts began lugging out in races and workouts, Hess concluded the testicles were bothering him. Hewitts underwent surgery to remove them both, and returned Jan. 14 as a first-time gelding.

He won that second-level allowance, then got sick and missed a start, but has trained well since.