After being sidelined since March 5, 2005, Declan's Moon returned to the racetrack yesterday and finished second in the first race of the day at Hollywood Park.
The 4-year-old Maryland-bred gelding, who was the 2004 Eclipse Award winner as the top 2-year-old and was a Kentucky Derby favorite before a foot injury, was beaten by a nose by Desert Boom in a 6 1/2 -furlong, $100,000 optional claiming race in his first race in 16 months.
"His winning streak came to an end," trainer Ron Ellis said by telephone after the allowance race that ended the horse's 5-for-5 run. "But he looked like his old self. He was very fluid. I think his jockey, Victor Espinosa, was a little overconfident about him and tried to cut it a little too fine.
"I think if he had been ridden all-out, he would have won. But this is his first race in a very long time and we're looking at another two, three years in his career. An allowance race like this isn't that important in the big picture."
Declan's Moon had not run since winning the Santa Catalina Stakes, during which he suffered a bone chip in his left front leg.
Wanting to take no chances, owner Samantha Siegel and Ellis sidelined him for the rest of his 3-year-old season.
The gelding was due back on track in October, but shortly before he was to return for the Grade III Perryville Stakes at Keeneland, Ellis discovered the horse had more than a chip in his knee. A nuclear scan revealed "an issue with the top of his cannon bone," and Declan's Moon took several more months off before returning to training this spring.
Declan's Moon, bred by Cooksville's Brice Ridgely in Bel Air at Country Life Farm, is now being pointed to the 7-furlong Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap at Del Mar, Aug. 20.
"He looks like he'll be back 100 percent from his injury," Ellis said. "Now we'll see how long it takes him to come back into full fitness."
In Maryland, Ridgely echoed the disappointment over the loss, but recovered quickly when talking about Declan's Moon's future.
"Everyone thinks its fantastic that he's back," Ridgely said. "Maybe he got a little tired. It was his first race in a long time. But just the fact he's back is wonderful."