Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters, impressive winner of last month’s Sam F. Davis Stakes (gr. III), will try to prove that his runaway victory was no fluke when he returns for $300,000 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) on March 14.
A former claimer, General Quarters could find things a little tougher in the 1 1/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby, as he’ll face another highly-regarded Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) hopeful in Hello Broadway, who ships up from Gulfstream Park where he ran a game second in the Jan. 30 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II). A field of 11 was entered for the main track contest, which will go to post as race 11 on the 13-race card that also includes the Florida Oaks (gr. III) and Hillsborough Stakes (gr. IIIT).
McCarthy, who has been in the racing business on and off for more than 50 years but has never had a Kentucky Derby contender, owns and trains General Quarters. McCarthy claimed the gray/roan colt for $20,000 prior to his maiden-breaking win last May at Churchill Downs.
“I saw him at the (Keeneland 2007 yearling) sale and bid as high as $14,000 for him, but didn’t get him (he went for $20,000),” said McCarthy, whose stable is based out of Churchill but is down in Tampa for the winter to be with his promising colt. “I was kicking myself when I got home because I really liked his pedigree. He is by Sky Mesa, who didn’t have a stakes winner at that time but has about nine since then, and is out of an Unbridled's Song mare (Ecology).
“I was flipping through the Form one day (more than a year later) and saw him entered. I said ‘I remember him,' so I bid on him. And here we are.”
McCarthy is here with a legitimate Triple Crown contender. General Quarters' sparkling Sam Davis win saw him stalk the pace, take over rounding the turn and draw off by 3 1/2 lengths while jockey James Lopez only went to the stick once. Mark Miller, who took over training duties for McCarthy for three races this winter, said General Quarters “looked like he never ran when he came back to the barn after the race.”
General Quarters’ time of 1:43.54 for 1 1/16 miles was a new stakes record and only 1/5 of second off Street Sense’s track record in 2007.
McCarthy said General Quarters has been training beautifully since the Sam Davis, and the bullet five-furlong work in 1:01-flat March 7 proves it.
“He actually went a little faster than I wanted,” McCarthy said. “But the rider said he never moved on him. And after the work he pulled me around for 40 minutes. He’s eating well and just really doing great.
“I envision he’ll run a very good race. Whether or not he wins I don’t know, but he looks like he’s as good as anything in here and he has (three) good races over the track.”
General Quarters, who was second in consecutive stakes at Tampa in December and January, has been nominated to the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland next month. McCarthy said if all goes well on Saturday he will run there. The colt finished a strong second in an allowance race on the Keeneland Polytrack in October.
Lopez will ride General Quarters in the Tampa Bay Derby again and will break from post 8. He was installed as the 4-1 second choice.
On paper, Elizabeth Valando’s homebred Hello Broadway figures to be the main competition. The son of Broken Vow—Nightstorm, by Storm Cat was runner-up in his two graded stakes tries. He ended his juvenile season being beaten by less than two lengths by Break Water Edison in the Nashua (gr. III) at Aqueduct. Less than three months later he finished second to Capt. Candyman Can in the Hutcheson. The latter was an impressive performance since he dueled with another horse through an aggressive :46.16 half-mile and still had enough left down the stretch to battle the 'Captain,' who had a perfect stalking trip.
Barclay Tagg trains Hello Broadway, the 3-1 morning-line favorite. Not long after the Hutcheson, Tagg decided to ship the chestnut north for the two-turn Tampa Bay Derby rather than leave him at Gulfstream for the one-mile Fountain of Youth (gr. II). Eibar Coa will have the mount on Hello Broadway and they will break from post 4.
Three other colts will also ship up from Gulfstream for the race, including Bear Stable’s Bear's Rocket (8-1), runner-up in the Holy Bull (gr. III) on Jan. 31 at odds of 33-1. The son of Lion Heart, who is 2-2-1 from eight starts, is trained by Reade Baker and will be ridden by Ronnie Allen Jr.
Warrior's Reward was second to the highly-regarded Dunkirk in a 1 1/8-mile allowance test at Gulfstream on Feb. 19 in his second career start. Ian Wilkes trains the son of Medaglia d'Oro.
Todd Pletcher will take a shot with Join the Dance, who finished third to Imperial Council in a Feb. 14 allowance going seven furlongs. This will be the second graded stakes appearance for the Sky Mesa colt, who ran fourth in the Saratoga Special (gr. II) as a 2-year-old.
General Quarters will also meet three of the same foes he saw in the Sam Davis – Sumo, Musket Man and Top Seed – who finished second, third and sixth, respectively in that race. Top Seed defeated General Quarters by a length in the Inaugural Stakes at Tampa in December, while Musket Man won by the same amount against General Quarters in the Pasco Stakes on Jan. 17. Top Seed drew post 11. Musket Man (8-1) has posted three consecutive bullet works at Tampa.
Sumo (6-1), trained by Graham Motion, went off at odds of 33-1 in the Sam Davis. He won an allowance race in wire-to-wire fashion at Tampa back on Jan. 30.
A late entry for the race was Meadowview Farm's Nowhere to Hide, who had been entered for the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) on the same day but will go in the Tampa Bay Derby. Trained by Nick Zito, Nowhere to Hide (5-1) ran fourth to Friesan Fire in the Risen Star (gr. III) on Feb. 7 at Fair Grounds. Alan Garcia will be in the irons.