General Quarters, who last year ran 10th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), returned to rainy Churchill Downs May 1 and won the race preceding the 2010 Run for the Roses, the $553,100 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT). (VIDEO)
The 4-year-old Sky Mesa colt was one of the heartwarming stories from a year ago because he is the one-horse stable of his owner and trainer, retired high school principal Tom McCarthy. General Quarters, who went over $1 million in career earnings with the victory, was making just his second start on grass in the Woodford Reserve.
“We wanted to try him on the grass," McCarthy said after General Quarters ran second in back-to-back graded stakes at Fair Grounds. "I had Robby (Albarado) breeze him five-eighths about a week and a half ago. When he got off the grass he said, `This is a grass horse. He takes to this grass so easy.’
“We went outside the ‘dogs’ that day and they put it down for 1:05 and we really went 5 1/2 furlongs," he added. "Robby put his finger right on it. I always thought he was a grass horse. He’s got a grass foot.
“That was a wonderful race. Oh, boy."
General Quarters had been second in his last four starts and he looked like he might be second again, being headed down the lane by Court Vision . But under a rousing ride from Rafael Bejarano, the gritty General Quarters battled back to win by a neck in a sustained drive.
"He was good and ready for today,” said Bejarano, who said he was "a little worried" about how General Quarters would handle the ground.
"It was a little soft but as soon as I saw my horse warm up really good I knew he was 100% and he brought me a lot of confidence in the race. I was really confident and had a good trip and (Tom) McCarthy did a good job with the horse.”
General Quarters was always prominently placed, sitting second down the backside behind Wise River, who carved soft fractions of :25.13, :50.95 and 1:15.87 over the boggy going. The field bunched up as it cornered for home in the nine-furlong race, with General Quarters surging to the lead between horses.
Robby Albarado and Court Vision came on General Quarters’ outside to get the lead at the eighth pole, but he gamely fought back to get the win. Irish-bred Loup Breton and Garrett Gomez had trouble getting going on the extremely wet turf but closed well to get third, just a head behind Court Vision.
“I had a good trip just got outrun by a better horse today," Albarado said. "I worked General Quarters on the turf the other day for Mr. McCarthy and told Tom he’d do well on the turf. That’s how this game goes sometimes. But it’s great for Tom. He’s done a great job with this horse.”
General Quarters, who carried 119 pounds, ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:53.42 over the yielding turf and paid $19.60, $8.40, and $5.20. Court Vision, the 5-2 favorite who shouldered top weight of 124 pounds, returned $4.40 and $3.20. Loup Breton paid $3.40.
Bred in Kentucky by Mr. and Mrs. R. David Randal, General Quarters is out of the Unbridled's Song mare Ecology. He was sold at the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale for $20,000.
"I knew when I was watching him coming around the turn that he liked the turf," McCarthy said. "He didn’t quit at all. He just kept on going. I’ll tell you what, that was a heck of ride by Rafael. He did just what we said, give him a breather, come on and that’s exactly what he did.
“My whole family is here and that makes it so great. And these fans, these wonderful people who last year bet on him and he didn’t do very well and got hurt. I hope this year that they double their bets and collected their money back.”
The Turf Classic was General Quarters fourth win in 18 career starts. Last year's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) winner added $329,205 to his career bankroll, which now stands at $1,075,740.
Battle of Hastings, bottled up for much of the running and bumped at the eighth pole, finished fourth, one length behind Loup Breton. Then came Blues Street, Al Khali, Yate's Black Cat, Wise River and Pop Tarrt.