General Quarters Claims Bluegrass

General Quarters Claims Tampa Bay Derby

General Quarters Claims Tampa Bay Derby

April 15th 2009- The last sixteenth-mile of  last saturday’s $750,000, Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes came down not only to a two-horse race between 14-1 General Quarters and favored Hold Me Back but to a poignant matchup between racing’s elite and the ultimate little guy. Score this one for David, or rather Tom, as one-time claimer General Quarters — the one-horse stable of 75-year-old owner/trainer Tom McCarthy of Louisville — held on for a 11/2-length victory over Hold Me Back, who is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, ridden by Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux and owned by internationally known WinStar Farm. I think this horse is just as good as any of them,” said McCarthy, who has had a horse or two at a time for almost a half-century but now will have one in the Kentucky Derby. “I think he’s got the pedigree to go on. … I’ve been looking at other people training good horses. And this time, thank God, I’ve got a good horse.”Mott surely was the happiest loser in the field of 11: Back in the early 1980s when he was starting his own stable, he trained for McCarthy, who for decades was a biology teacher and principal in Jefferson County.

“If I couldn’t win it, I’m glad he did,” Mott said. “It’s wonderful.”

McCarthy told all who would listen — and surely more will now — that General Quarters tipped his hand with a huge 581/5-second workout for five furlongs a week earlier at Churchill Downs. He noted that after winning Tampa Bay Downs’ Grade III Sam F. Davis, General Quarters got in a world of trouble when fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby. He switched to Eibar Coa to get a jockey more experienced in big races.

Yesterday Coa settled General Quarters into midpack, coming wide around the first turn. Reacting to the leisurely pace set by Join in the Dance, Coa cruised toward the leaders up the backstretch. On the far turn, General Quarters collared Join in the Dance, drew away from the pack and gave the hard-charging Hold Me Back no opportunity to catch him.

“He’s all right when he’s wide, as long as you don’t stop him,” McCarthy said. ” … When he gets moving, he’s like a big train.”

Said Coa: “You’re always concerned about somebody coming, but he never stopped running. … He’s definitely going to be one of the horses to beat in the Derby.”

Coa would not commit to riding General Quarters in the May 2 Kentucky Derby because he also won the Illinois Derby on Musket Man.

General Quarters, whom McCarthy claimed 11 months ago for $20,000, covered 11/8 miles in 1:49.26 over Polytrack. That reflects a final eighth-mile in 11.94 seconds and final three furlongs in a lively 35.85.

The strapping gray colt — a son of Sky Mesa out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Ecology — improved to 3-2-3 in 11 starts, and the $465,000 purse grew his earnings to $641,735.

Hold Me Back, Turfway’s Lane’s End winner in his first 3-year-old start, ran very well.

“The last time (a favorite) finished second here, he won the Derby,” said Desormeaux, referring to 2007 Derby winner Street Sense.

Said Mott: “Maybe this wasn’t his best race, and maybe it doesn’t need to be. … He ran a good, hard, honest race, and they’ll have a little more pace down the road.”

The Blue Grass could produce up to four starters for the Derby. General Quarters and Hold Me Back are definitely in.

Fourth-place Terrain has enough graded-stakes earnings to run in the Kentucky Derby. Al Stall Jr., Terrain’s trainer, noted that in the Louisiana Derby, Terrain finished only a head behind runner-up Papa Clem, who yesterday won the Arkansas Derby.

British invader Mafaaz, who gets an automatic entry into the Derby because he won the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton Park, broke in the air, got up to fourth and finished eighth.

Trainer John Gosden was noncommittal about running Mafaaz in the Derby.

“He didn’t finish at all, but there was no pace in there,” he said. “He ran a little flat, but that is to be expected after the long journey. … We’ll see how he is (today) and then regroup and see where we’re at.”(By Jennie Rees,Louisville Courier-Journal)



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