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Declan's Moon Surprises

September 09, 2004|Bill Christine | Times Staff Writer

DEL MAR — Roman Ruler's reputation, built on just two races, was enough to chase away all but three rivals, but one that remained on Wednesday entered and ran, and ran and ran, to score one of the biggest upsets in the 57-year history of the Del Mar Futurity.

Declan's Moon, so small compared with Roman Ruler that it appeared the 1-10 favorite could have swallowed his opponent in a gulp, refused to buckle through a prolonged stretch drive and won by a neck for owners Mace and Samantha Siegel, trainer Ron Ellis and jockey Victor Espinoza. Switching whip hands twice from the quarter pole home, Espinoza hit Declan's Moon 23 times in the $245,000 race on Del Mar's closing day.

Roman Ruler's two-for-two record was so impressive that three of the seven starters were scratched, leaving the Futurity with its smallest field ever. One of the defections was Chandtrue, also undefeated, but a colt whose owner, Harold Greene, "didn't feel like running second," according to trainer Bob Hess Jr.

Declan's Moon, whose only previous start was a five-length win here against maidens on July 31, set a stakes record with 1:21 1/5 for seven furlongs and capped a fantastic week for Mace Siegel and his daughter. At Philadelphia Park on Monday, the Siegels sprung a 12-1 upset with their Love Of Money in the $750,000 Pennsylvania Derby.

Of the $318,702 in the Del Mar Futurity's win pool, $236,694 was bet on the nose of Roman Ruler. Declan's Moon, a $125,000 yearling purchase, paid $14.40 as the second choice. The other runners, Swiss Lad and Gentleman Count, finished far back.

Gentleman Count, breaking from the outside post, sprinted to the front through speedy fractions of :22 1/5 and :44 3/5 . Five-and-a-half lengths from the lead, Roman Ruler was third, behind Gentleman Count and Declan's Moon, after half a mile.

Declan's Moon and Roman Ruler gobbled up Gentleman Count near the quarter pole. Roman Ruler, on the outside of Declan's Moon, was half a length ahead with an eighth of a mile left, but the winner responded to Espinoza's whip.

"I had to work hard," said Espinoza, who had four winners on the card. "This is a horse with a tremendous future."

Bob Baffert, who trains Roman Ruler, a $500,000 yearling, had won the Futurity seven straight times before his favored Cooperation lost to Siphonizer last year.

It was announced earlier Wednesday that Jim McIngvale, one of Baffert's top clients, had shifted most of his 13 horses to trainer Nick Hines at Hollywood Park and was also giving a few to Steve Asmussen, whose U.S.-leading barn operates out of the Midwest. Baffert, who had been training for McIngvale since 2001, won this year's Louisiana Derby for him with Wimbledon. The colt was scratched the day before the Kentucky Derby because of a tendon injury and is now out of training.

Corey Nakatani, who rode three winners to outfinish Tyler Baze, 54-52, for the meet title, could have used one more with Roman Ruler.

"It just goes to show that they can all get beat," Nakatani said. "My horse tried real hard. I figured I had to be there by the quarter pole. And I was there, but [Declan's Moon] was waiting for me."

Declan's Moon completed a yo-yo finish for Ellis at Del Mar. A week ago, the trainer's Atswhatimtalknbout, fourth in the 2003 Kentucky Derby, was euthanized after complications from stomach surgery.

"I had my heart ripped out last week, and today I got it back," Ellis said. "It's amazing what happens in this game. We beat a real racehorse. I've got a mature colt who should be better the farther he goes. I was surprised he showed so much speed when he won his first race at 5 1/2 [furlongs]."

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