08/31/2011 3:07PM

Arlington Park: General Quarters to return to Polytrack in Washington Park Handicap

Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
General Quarters will race on Polytrack for the first time since April 2009 in the Grade 3, $100,000 Washington Park Handicap.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – It was a Polytrack race at Keeneland, the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, that really put General Quarters’s name out to the racing public for the first time. And, for the first time since the Blue Grass in April 2009, General Quarters is set to return to a synthetic racing surface. The likeable Kentucky-based 5-year-old horse is scheduled to ship here Friday and start Saturday at Arlington in the Grade 3, $100,000 Washington Park Handicap.

General Quarters was one of eight horses entered Wednesday in the Washington Park, which will be contested over 1 1/8 miles on the main track. The field includes Workin for Hops, sharp winner of the Hanshin Cup here earlier this meet, as well as a pair of horses from English trainer Gerard Butler’s Arlington string, the 3-year-old Burj Alzain and the filly Maristar.

General Quarters was a darling of the 2009 Triple Crown trail, having been claimed for $20,000 out of his career debut by owner-trainer Tom McCarthy, a folksy former principal who was 75 at the time. General Quarters’s actual Triple Crown experience failed to play out in storybook fashion – a 10th in the Derby followed by a ninth in the Preakness – but General Quarters validated his quality in 2010, coming close in several high-class dirt stakes and scoring a narrow victory in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill before tailing off last summer after making two trips to Arlington, where he finished seventh in the 2010 Million.

Surgery was required to repair a chipped knee, and General Quarters was given a lengthy recovery by McCarthy, who spent the winter at Fair Grounds without starting General Quarters there. General Quarters ran well when he finally made it back to the races on June 10 in a seven-furlong dirt allowance at Churchill, and a subsequent seventh-place finish in the July 4 Firecracker shouldn’t be held against him.

“It was really hot, and that ground was really hard,” McCarthy said of the Churchill turf course. “He just didn’t want to extend himself. The jockey came back and said it was just jarring him. He likes a softer track.”

McCarthy said General Quarters seems like the same horse who acquitted himself admirably in high-class competition during 2010. And much is still the same in the relationship between General Quarters and McCarthy. Now 77, McCarthy still handles General Quarters’s daily care himself, the grooming, feeding, and hotwalking. The sight of General Quarters dragging McCarthy around the shed row while being cooled out, his handler cajoling him in patient tones to slow down, is a scene worth witnessing, though General Quarters’s exuberance during his period of post-exercise walking stems from a strong desire to hasten feeding time.

“He likes to get that walking done and get in that stall and start eating,” McCarthy said. “He loves to eat. He’s never left an oat as far as I can remember.”

“I look forward to seeing him every day ,” McCarthy said. “He and I kind of understand one another by now, I expect.”

Entries increase after second purse hike

Since Arlington announced a second purse raise effective Aug. 25, the pace of entries here has increased markedly. Four programs last week averaged 8.7 starters per race, up from a meet total of 8.18. One hundred horses were entered on Thursday’s 10-race card, 89 on Friday’s nine-race program, and 101 more in the 10 races carded Saturday. Using funds from impact fees collected from four Illinois casinos and redistributed to racing that became available last month, Arlington has boosted purses some 25 percent from the amount of money being distributed most of the meet. Moreover, racing in Indiana shifted in early August from Indiana Downs, which has a turf course, to Hoosier Park, which does not.

“The shipping has increased dramatically,” Arlington vice president and general manager Tony Petrillo said. “We had a good, positive week last week.”