06/08/2011 11:39AM

Churchill Downs: General Quarters no lock in return

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Barbara D. Livingston
General Quarters has been sidelined at length twice by injury.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – If racing fans were to vote on which horse is the best horse on the Friday twilight program at Churchill Downs, there is little doubt that General Quarters would win in a landslide.

Ah, but if the issue was only that easy.

General Quarters, who can claim victories in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at 3 and the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at 4, will be making his 5-year-old debut under less-than-ideal circumstances in the ninth of 11 Friday races, a $64,700, classified allowance at seven furlongs.

Tom McCarthy, who became the hit story of the 2009 Triple Crown campaign as a retired high school principal with a fabulously successful one-horse stable, is excited about sending out General Quarters for his first start since the Arlington Million last August – although he, like many wizened horseplayers, is proceeding with caution.

General Quarters has done his best work around two turns, and the Friday race figures to serve as a tightener for longer engagements. Moreover, he is returning from a second layoff of significant length. The horse was off seven months after undergoing surgery for a knee chip following his 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and ninth-place finish in the Preakness. The latest down time was forced by what McCarthy described as the horse being “muscle sore” exiting the Million.

“It was an awful hard racetrack that didn’t benefit him one bit,” said McCarthy. “I thought he just needed some rest. He has been coming right along in his training. I’m hoping this race Friday isn’t too short for him, because he is meeting some top-notch sprinters. I just need to give him a little bit of a prep here before we get into anything too serious.”

Clearly the class of the race, General Quarters has earned $1,165,260 from 21 starts. He has been assigned the favorable outside post in a field of seven older horses, with Jamie Theriot riding for the first time.

If General Quarters isn’t quite back to his old self, a minor upset would seem well within the scope of Native Ruler or Wise Dan.

Native Ruler (post 1, Miguel Mena) has knocked out nearly $600,000 in earnings when racing primarily at six furlongs. So although the seven furlongs might stretch his limits, the 7-year-old horse certainly knows how the game is played, having won 15 of his 36 career starts.

Wise Dan (post 2, Julien Leparoux), winner of the Grade 3 Phoenix last fall at Keeneland, has been somewhat disappointing in two starts this year when competing in graded company, but if he rounds back to a peak in the third start of his form cycle, he could prove formidable here.

The rest of the field is Homerun Berti, Grand Traverse, Agastache, and Pointing North.

One other allowance directly follows the feature as the 10th race. It’s a $55,200, first-level allowance over a one-turn mile, and it drew a well-matched field of 10 3-year-olds. Ninety Schillings, Depeche Chat, Will’s Wildcat, Sharp Won, and Saratoga Red all look capable.

◗ The Friday card is the last of five straight Fridays with a twilight first post of 2:45 p.m. Eastern. The feature is set for 6:54 p.m., with the 11th race going at 7:54. Night racing, with a first post of 6 p.m., runs the last three Fridays of the meet: June 17, June 24, and July 1. The 39-day meet runs through July 4.