Fort Larned wasn't the only Thoroughbred superstar running around loose Saturday evening. The Breeders' Cup Classic winner (who lost jockey Brian Hernandez after a stumble at the gate in the Gulfstream Park Handicap) had company, way up in Maryland.
During the Retired Racehorse Training Program's "graduation ceremony," trainer/rider Steuart Pittman jumped off Declan's Moon, loosened the girth, removed the saddle, took off the bridle and buckled on a halter. Moments before, Pittman and the 2004 champion juvenile walked, trotted, cantered - right-handed, left-handed, big circles, small circles - even jumped a small fence in the indoor arena at Caves Farm near Baltimore.
Pittman provided narration through the performance, and talked about the gelding's potential as a sport horse. Dressage, showing, eventing, Declan's Moon could have probably been a star at any. His success came in racing, as an unbeaten juvenile champion for Jay Em Ess Stable and trainer Ron Ellis, but as Pittman put it "an athlete is an athlete."
That was evident Saturday as Pittman and Declan's Moon went through their paces, and even more so when Pittman let go of the halter. "I probably shouldn't do this," Pittman said, "but I want you to see his stride, the way he moves."
The son of Malibu Moon, now 11, duly obliged. Loose, free, unrestrained by a human, Declan's Moon trotted off - slowly at first, then faster and with more power. Paying little mind to the 100 or so spectators (including owner Samantha Siegel in from California) sitting in bleachers, he extended the trot. He flicked his front legs, arched heck, pulled in his head. He looked like something out of a movie. The trot became a canter, a gallop and he rolled past the bleachers several times - providing a glimpse of the power and speed he used to win his first five starts, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity, and earn more than $700,000. It felt a little like watching Bo Jackson run sprints.
Declan's Moon showed off just enough to give everyone there a taste. Any less and they would have wondered what more he could do. Any more and they may have run for the exits in a panic.
The night at Caves, a horse show facility just outside the Beltway, capped a roughly 100-day run of teaching, training, learning, and - most importantly - showcasing the multiple abilities of Thoroughbred horses. They're bred for racing, but they can do more. Declan's Moon shared the stage with Gunport, a 4-year-old filly; Alluring Punch, a 4-year-old gelding; Suave Jazz, a 10-year-old gelding. All excelled in their tastes of new careers.
Declan's Moon was the name, the star, the one horse everybody recognized in the program. He'd been retired for almost five years, much of the time spent in a big field at Country Life Farm with several pals. For Pittman, the horse learned new steps and put all that athletic ability to use in new ways - willingly, for the most part.
"He's not bad, he just lets you know he's going to make you work for it," Pittman said while riding the dark bay Maryland-bred. "He's a little bit opinionated, but he was in charge of his own life for five years. You can understand."
That past, and his racing career, earned him a return trip to that field. Declan's Moon won't go on to another career, he'll go back to his field as an example, perhaps THE example of the Thoroughbred's true value. When someone is at a loss for what to do with an ex-racehorse, maybe they'll think of Declan's Moon and get to work. He was as fast as any in his crop, as brilliant early as any 2-year-old. He spent five years in a field, doing nothing. And still learned to do something else.
And man did he look good running loose for the people that day in 2013.
For more, see:
And for a more detailed article summing up the 2013 program, see the upcoming April edition of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine.