One generally doesn’t expect to find Kentucky Derby hopefuls hurtling down 4 1/2 furlongs at Churchill Downs in May of their juvenile season. Even less expected would be for that debut to be in a $20,000 maiden claiming event. That, however, was the launching point for the career of General Quarters, who stepped into the Derby picture Feb. 14 by capturing the 8 1/2-furlong Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III) in a time that was a new stakes record and less than half-second off the track record set by Street Sense .
Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey, General Quarters’ owners at the time, could afford to risk the colt for $20,000 on his debut because that was his purchase price at the 2007 Keeneland September sale (a price that made him 37th of the 55 yearlings by his sire to pass through the ring that year). Despite his modest sale price, General Quarters was sent off as an odds-on favorite. Quickly away, the grey or roan colt battled for the lead throughout, and prevailed by a neck.
General Quarters was claimed out of his debut by his current owner, trainer Thomas McCarthy, who ran him throughout the rest of the year as a one-horse stable. McCarthy had a high opinion of General Quarters from the off and for his second start, the trainer ran him in the Bashford Manor Stakes (gr. III). Not surprisingly, General Quarters found that spot too hot, and ran sixth beaten 11 1/4 lengths. That effort was followed by a fourth and a second in allowance contests over Keeneland’s all-weather track, and then an off-the-board run over a mile on turf back at Churchill Downs. On November 29, General Quarters ended his Kentucky campaign where he had started, on dirt at the Twin Spires, where he ran a fair third to 2009 stakes winner and graded-placed Silver City. McCarthy then turned General Quarters over to Mark Miller, who had been stabled next to McCarthy in Kentucky, and who was heading to Tampa for the winter. (Interestingly, McCarthy still acts as General Quarters’ groom!) Making his first start for Miller, General Quarters finished second, beaten a length by Top Seed in the six-furlong Inaugural Stakes. Next out, he was beaten the same margin by the then-undefeated Musket Man in the seven-furlong Pasco Stakes. The Sam F. Davis marked General Quarters’ first start at a distance beyond a mile, and stretching out clearly suited him, as he convincingly accounted for both Top Seed and Musket Man.
General Quarters’ victory marks another chapter in the comeback story of his sire, Sky Mesa , the leading second-season sire of 2008, and currently this year’s leading third-crop sire. Sky Mesa started out very quietly with his first juveniles, 2-year-olds of 2007, and although he did have 12 winners from 43 starters, his only black type earner was the Tremont Stakes third, Twenty Eight Hours.
The rush to judgment was intensified by the high expectations that had been held out for Sky Mesa, a horse who appeared to have all the credentials for stud success. A member of the second crop of Pulpit, Sky Mesa took the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) on only his second start, accounting for Pretty Wild and Zavata (who had been the fastest of the early-season 2-year-olds in the East). With that triumph followed by a four-lengths win in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (gr. II), Sky Mesa looked the horse to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Unfortunately, the day before the race Sky Mesa wrenched his right fore ankle, an injury that not only kept him out of the Breeders’ Cup, but also off the Triple Crown trail. In fact, he didn’t return to the races until the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II), the following July. Considering his lengthy absence he made an encouraging return, prompting the early pace, before tiring to finish third, 3 1/4 lengths behind winner Strong Hope . In the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I), Sky Mesa produced another good effort, taking second to Peace Rules, with the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner Funny Cide back in third. However, he failed to fire in the Travers Stakes (gr. I), and his connections decided that it was time to end his career.
Retired to Three Chimneys Farm to stand for a $30,000 fee, Sky Mesa’s excellent juvenile form, good looks (he was the third most expensive yearling of his crop for his sire), and pedigree (he’s out of the Storm Cat mare Caress, a multiple graded stakes-winning sister to Bernstein) saw him in great demand. His popularity continued with his first-crop yearlings, 61 selling for an average of $128,586.
After the disappointment of 2007, Sky Mesa’s first crop went a considerable way towards making amends at 3. Storm Mesa took the San Clemente Handicap (gr. II), Iowa Oaks (gr. III), and Cinemine Stakes; Skylighter won the Indiana Oaks (gr. II); and Sky Mystic captured the California Oaks. Creditable as those efforts are, it’s Sky Mesa’s second crop that’s really been writing the headlines. Even though they have just turned 3, five of their number are stakes winners, four of them graded. They are led by Sky Diva, who won the Frizette Stakes (gr. I) on her second start, and also took third in the Bessemer Trust Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I); and in addition to General Quarters, also include Beethoven, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II); and Terrain, winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity (gr. III) and runner-up in the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I). It’s interesting to speculate about the difference between Sky Mesa’s first two crops. One thing that comes to mind is that it was noticeable with his first sales yearlings that the colts, while impressive, frequently seemed to be big, heavy sorts. With that in mind it is interesting that the three stakes winners from his first crop were all fillies, and that several of his stakes winners are out of mares by taller, leggier type horses.
General Quarters certainly fits that description as his dam, Ecology, is by Unbridled’s Song. Ecology failed to place in two starts, but was half-sister to the listed-winning Dynaformer filly Minimalist. Ecology’s dam, Gdansk’s Honour, a daughter of Danzig, was a listed winner over a mile in Ireland, and was group-placed at the same distance. She is a sister to Sesaro, a Danzig colt who set a new turf course record for 5 1/2 furlongs at Keeneland while winning the Shakertown Stakes, and to Honoria, a group winner and group I-placed runner over six furlongs in Ireland. Subsequently Honoria produced the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) winner Composer and listed scorer Colonial Power. Gdansk’s Honour is also half-sister to stakes winner Don Hernando and to Royalivor, the dam of three group/graded-winning similarly-bred half-brothers in three different countries: Snake Eyes, a Dixieland Band colt who won three graded stakes on turf; King Ivor (AUS), a son of Fairy King who captured a pair of graded stakes in Australia; and Linney Head, by Lyphard, winner of the Thresher Classic Trial (Eng-III) in England.
Gdansk’s Honour’s dam, Royal Honoree, was a sister to Targowice, the 1972 French champion 2-year-old, and subsequently sire of Horse of the Year All Along. Royal Honoree was also a sister to the talented juvenile filly Rondeau, and half-sister to Dona Ysidra, dam of champion turf horse Manila, and Stately Don, a highweight in Ireland, and a dual grade I winner in the U.S. Royal Honoree’s third dam, Colosseum, is ancestress of a string of notable horses, among them Miswaki, Southern Halo, Singletary, Lacovia, Tobougg (IRE), Almutawakel (GB), White Muzzle (GB), Aristotle (IRE), Starborough (GB), Ballingarry (IRE), General Challenge, Notable Career, Clever Trevor, and Jump Start.
General Quarters – who is rated A++ by TrueNicks – follows Sky Diva as the second Sky Mesa graded stakes winner out of an Unbridled-line mare (the same cross also produced Pulpit’s hot young stallion son Tapit ). However, we find General Quarters’ overall pedigree to be a pretty intriguing one too. He has three Round Table/Nasrullah crosses, through Poker (in Seattle Slew), La Mesa (third dam of Sky Mesa), and General Quarter’s own third dam, Royal Honoree. Of course to go with the three Round Table crosses, Sky Mesa’s sire, Pulpit, has Monarchy, a sister to Round Table. Sky Mesa also has two crosses of Secretariat (Nasrullah/Princequillo cross, the reverse of Round Table/Nasrullah).
Pulpit’s own third dam, State, is by a son of Northern Dancer, out of Monarchy (sister to Round Table), and so is bred like General Quarters’ granddam, Gdansk’s Honour, who is by a son of Northern Dancer out of a Round Table mare. In addition, Northern Dancer/Nasrullah/Princequillo, who are all concentrated in Gdansk’s Honour, are also focused again through the pedigree of Storm Cat, the broodmare sire of Sky Mesa. Now, that’s what we call narrowing the gene pool!