When the year began and, with it, the evaluation of serious racing prospects, Moon Catcher was not really involved in the discussion.
"She kind of fell off the radar screen," said the filly's majority owner, Chuck Zacney. "As a 2-year-old, we took her to the track and she had some sore shins. There wasn't a whole lot that was going to wow you. She came back and started to train well. We were a little surprised by some of the results we were seeing."
Eight months after her first start on Jan. 21 at Oaklawn Park, Moon Catcher has won five times and earned $531,600. She won the Grade II Delaware Oaks and the Susans Girl Stakes at Delaware Park. She is running in tomorrow's Grade II $750,000 Fitz Dixon Cotillion Handicap at Philadelphia Park.
Zacney and his partners made a very nice score with 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex. They did not take their money and run.
"From the beginning, we reinvested in horse racing," Zacney said. "We also want to reinvest in Alex."
One day, Zacney hopes to breed Moon Catcher to Afleet Alex. Meanwhile, there are more races to win.
Zacney bought Moon Catcher in 2005 at Keeneland for $75,000, the same price the partners paid for Afleet Alex in 2004.
Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey was part of a group that had bought the filly the year before for $49,000. Zacney now has an 80 percent interest in the filly. Ritchey trains her and owns the other 20 percent.
Zacney is still in partnerships with a few members of the Afleet Alex group. He also owns some horses with fewer partners or no partners.
Moon Catcher finished fourth in the Grade I Alabama Stakes on Aug. 18 at Saratoga. Cotillion favorite Octave was third in that race after a tough trip. Octave was a victim of circumstance. Moon Catcher was a victim of Kent Desormeaux.
Moon Catcher won her two stakes by leading practically from start to finish and certainly figured to be part of the early pace in the Alabama. Instead, Desormeaux, twice the winner of the Kentucky Derby, holder of the record for most wins in a year and in the midst of a very good Saratoga meet, decided to take Moon Catcher so far to the back of the pack, you could not see her if you watched on television.
"When giving instructions, Tim said having the rail, you make the call, whether you want to lead or basically sit right off the pace, meaning a length or two off," Zacney said. "We were both shocked and amazed to see us [last]. We weren't even close to the sixth-place horse. We were 15 lengths off the leader."
Watching it, you wondered whether the filly got hurt. One of Zacney's Afleet Alex partners, Joe Lerro, thought the same thing.
"According to Tim, Desormeaux came back after the race and said, 'At the three-eighths pole, I thought we had a shot,' " Zacney said. "I didn't see that. He basically said he wanted to come from off the pace. He thought there was enough early pace for her to make one run. Notice he's not up this time."
Carlos Marquez Jr., who rode Moon Catcher in her two wins at Delaware Park, has the mount back. Using a Saratoga rider with Desormeaux' big race experience seemed to be a reasonable decision until the jockey misread the race and took the filly out of her comfort zone.
That she was able to pass three horses and finish fourth, 6 3/4 lengths behind, was much more about the horse than the rider. You can watch a lot of big races and see very few rides any stranger than Desormeaux' on Moon Catcher.
Needless to say, she won't be coming from last tomorrow. She figures to be part of a pace scenario that includes Bear Now, Talkin About Love and Exchanging Fire. Octave should be just in behind the early pace.
Zacney's main concern is getting there for the race from his Phoenixville home. His 8-year-old son, Alex, has a football game at 1 p.m. Post time for the Cotillion is 4:01 p.m.
"I am going to the game until halftime," Zacney said. "Carol [Zacney's wife] will stay with him."
Alex is a center/middle linebacker in an 80-pound league. The game will be over in time for Alex and Carol to get to a television and watch Moon Catcher in the Cotillion. Chuck will navigate the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Bensalem.