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Wilko tests unbeaten Declan’s Moon, juvenile jinx

Nov 30, 2004 3:56 AM

No winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile has ever won the Kentucky Derby.

If Wilko wins the Run for the Roses on May 7 next year, he will break a streak that has lasted more than two decades, starting when 7-10 favorite Chief’s Crown won the inaugural Juvenile in 1984 and went on to finish third in the 1985 Derby.

Wilko is the only horse that can snap what now is considered a jinx in many quarters. The Kentucky-bred son of Awesome Again registered a 28-1 upset in the Juvenile on Oct. 30 for trainer Jeremy Noseda. Shortly after the victory, 75 percent of Wilko was purchased by J. Paul Reddam, the principal client of Craig Dollase, who now trains the chestnut colt at his Hollywood Park headquarters. Reportedly, Noseda and then-owner Susan Roy were seeking $1.8 million for 100 percent of Wilko, so it’s safe to assume Reddam paid in the vicinity of $1 million.

Wilko is being readied for the Dec. 18 Hollywood Futurity and a showdown with undefeated Declan’s Moon to decide the Eclipse Award winner for 2-year-old male.

"It’s been 21 years now, I know," Dollase said, referring to the Juvenile-Derby drought. "It’s weird but hopefully we’ll break the streak. He’s run a lot of races. It takes patience and we’ll pick our spots and hope it all works out."

Wilko had 10 races before the Juvenile, all on turf and all in England, posting a 2-2-4 record. He had never raced beyond one mile and the Futurity will be his second attempt at 1 1/16 miles, the same distance as the Juvenile.

His extensive campaign was one reason Reddam and Dollase bought him.

"He had a dirt pedigree," Dollase said. "We liked that and the fact that he had run a lot. He was durable and consistent. Put it all together, we bought him.

"We were surprised when he won (the Juvenile) but not shocked because he’s so consistent. He really took to the dirt like we thought he would. His best style probably is from just off the pace. He places himself in a race well and he’s a stayer. He acts like the distance won’t be a limitation at all."

Distance may not be a problem, but Declan’s Moon could be. Still, no matter the outcome in the Hollywood Futurity, Wilko is the only horse with a chance to break the Juvenile-Derby famine.

"He’s a very durable horse," Dollase said. "If anybody can do it, it will be this horse. He’s solid."

As for Declan’s Moon, trainer Ron Ellis enjoyed a unique experience when the gelded son of Malibu Moon won the Hollywood Prevue Stakes by two easy lengths.

"The only surprising thing about it was it went as planned," Ellis said. "Things rarely do in this business. Victor (jockey Victor Espinoza) won with a lot of horse left. He never had to draw the stick on him. He just hand-rode him the whole race and he won well within himself."

In short, it was a $100,000 workout. Now the Hollywood Futurity will decide who is king of the 2-year-old males.

"If my horse wins he’s going to be the champion, or should be," Ellis said.

Meanwhile, Ellis, like Dollase, feels it’s only a matter of time before a Juvenile winner captures the Derby.

"I think it will be done some day," Ellis said. "I think the reason it hasn’t been done is because a Juvenile winner needs more experience. He has to be a seasoned horse to win both races. That’s why Wilko won, because he’s had more experience than the other horses.

"I look at it like a 12-year-old kid throwing curve balls in the Little League World Series. You don’t see the kid who does that doing it successfully later on in life."

The homestretch

Don’t know if racing will miss Doug Peterson, but I will. A bear of a man at 6-5 and more than 250 pounds, Peterson died suddenly of an apparent accidental drug overdose last Monday in a hotel room near his Hollywood Park headquarters. He was 53.

Peterson was best known as trainer of Seattle Slew in 1978, the year after the legendary colt won the Triple Crown. Seattle Slew won seven of five starts and earned an Eclipse Award as champion older male under the guidance of Peterson, who overcame life-threatening alcohol abuse problems to resurrect his life and his career. He told me he was carried from the gutter by Arcadia police in a drunken stupor in 1986 and virtually given up as a hopeless cause.

"The police were about to flip a coin," Peterson said. "They told me if I went to a nuthouse, I might not get out. In prison, I would get out in time. Society was tired of me. I had ended up a bad drunk. I’d go to bars and fight every night—every night! On this particular night, I had cut my wrists and fallen in the street."

Business was slow for Peterson in recent years, but he usually wore a suit and tie when saddling one of his horses, even a lowly claimer, and always had time to answer a question, although he was innately shy and wary of strangers. Seattle Slew aside, he was most proud of his nine-year-old son, David, and his budding baseball career. Rest in peace, Doug. You deserve it.

”¡ If racing’s attendance is dwindling, it’s because old fans are dying off, not because they’re not coming to the track. Recently at Hollywood, a grizzled senior citizen showed up in a wheel chair, wearing a hospital gown open in back and a robe to cover the opening, not to mention a catheter. "I’m sick," he said, "but I’m not staying in a hospital bed."