Some thought General Quarters’ Sam F. Davis (gr. III) win two starts back was a fluke. But the son of Sky Mesa proved them wrong by powering to a 1 1/2-length victory in the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) on April 11 at Keeneland. He will now head to next month’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) as a legitimate contender.
Bettors sent General Quarters off at 14-1 in the Blue Grass after the gray/roan colt ran fifth in the March 14 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). His bullet work at Churchill Downs a week ago did nothing to change their minds. Under the handling of Eibar Coa, General Quarters raced wide but close up through the backstretch, made a winning move rounding the far turn and took over from Massone and Join in the Danceat the top of the lane. Hold Me Back, the 2-1 favorite, gave a game chase inside the sixteenth-pole but was no match for the winner.
The final time on Polytrack was 1:49.26.
Hold Me Back, who entered off a victory in the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) last month, was runner-up under Kent Desormeaux, 1 1/4 lengths better than third-place Massone and Garrett Gomez. Terrain was fourth in a field of 11 3-year-olds.
As expected, Join in the Dance set the pace in the Blue Grass, taking the field through splits of :24.40, :49.06 and 1:13.31 before tiring. Theregoesjojo was close up in the early going, as was Patena. Massone made a bold move along the rail as they made their way into the final turn.
General Quarters was wide the whole way before Coa angled him inward on the second turn for his winning challenge. He was two lengths better than Massone at the eighth-pole and stayed clear of his rivals the rest of the way.
"He was very professional," said Coa, who rode General Quarter for the first time. "He broke sharp. He placed himslef in a very good position. In the straight, when I asked him, he gave me what he had. He showed up today, and he's definitely going to be one of the horses to beat in the Derby."
General Quarters is owned and trained by Tom McCarthy, a 75-year-old former high school principal. The Louisville native has been in the Thoroughbred racing business for more than 45 years but will be going to the Kentucky Derby for the first time.
"He trained like a champion all week," McCarthy said. "I knew I had him right where I wanted him. I think he exhibited the tenacity to go on to the Derby."
General Quarters was purchased by Ken and Sarah Ramsey for just $20,000 at the Keeneland September 2007 yearling sale. McCarthy claimed him out of his debut on May 30 of last year for the same price. He won that maiden claimer by a neck but lost his next seven races.
He had a pair of starts over the Keeneland Polytrack last fall, finishing fourth and second in those races, respectively. Later in the year he was sent down to Tampa Bay for the winter and was under the care of Mark Miller for three starts, including the Sam Davis.
General Quarters was bred in Kentucky by Mr. and Mrs. R. David Randal and is out of the Unbridled's Song mare Ecology.
Last year’s Futurity (gr. II) winner Charitable Man, making his 3-year-old debut off a nearly seven-month layoff, was never in contention and finished seventh. Theregoesjojo, third in the Florida Derby (gr. I) last month, faded after six furlongs to finish ninth as the second betting choice.
Mafaaz, who earned a berth into the first leg of the Triple Crown after winning the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes in England, finished eighth. Trainer John Gosden said he has not made a decision on whether the colt will go on to Churchill.
The winner paid $30.60, $11 and $7. The exacta (8-10) returned $117.60 and the trifecta (8-10-11) was worth $1,399.40.
Also likely for the Derby is WinStar Farm's runner-up Hold Me Back, who turned in a solid effort three weeks after the Lane's End for trainer Bill Mott.
"He ran very well," said WinStar vice president Elliott Walden. "He was a little wide on both turns, but they went slow up front and he finished strong."