04/24/2009 11:00PM

Derby colts add to meet's luster


OLDSMAR, Fla. - As the days dwindle down to a precious few at the Tampa Bay Downs meeting, it's time to reflect on some of the noteworthy events and accomplishments at the meet that began in mid-December.

Topping the list of things we'll remember from this meeting are the development and emergence of Musket Man and General Quarters. Both earned their way onto the national stage as prospective starters for the Kentucky Derby.

Musket Man came here with the rest of Derek Ryan's string as a precocious but still immature colt. With a lot of work and perseverance on the part of Ryan and his crew, Musket Man showed improvement with each race and capped his season here by overcoming serious traffic problems on the second turn of the Tampa Bay Derby, picking himself up in midstretch, and launching a headlong surge for the wire in the final sixteenth that carried him to a neck victory in the Grade 3 Derby prep.

He proved he wasn't a one-track wonder by shipping to Hawthorne and winning the Illinois Derby in convincing fashion.

General Quarters, who also shipped here late last year, posted a scintillating victory in the Sam Davis Stakes and then was trapped behind a wall of runners in the first turn of the Tampa Bay Derby, losing any chance of making it two wins in a row. He more than vindicated himself in the Blue Grass Stakes, where he overcame being hung wide to post an authoritative victory.

Lost in the hoopla surrounding General Quarters's 75-year-old owner-trainer-groom Tom McCarthy is the fact that for the first portion of his stay here he was under the care of trainer Mark Miller and ran in the Davis under his name. The gray colt looked a picture of health training here before McCarthy came south from his Kentucky home, and that is a credit to Miller.

On the human front, Mike Straight, who came here as a 10-pound apprentice and graduate of Chris McCarron's North American Racing Academy, has made remarkable progress during the course of the meet and looks to be a young rider with a bright future. Straight, who has displayed patience and a good set of hands, is contemplating his next move, with Calder and Arlington Park among the tracks he is considering.

The jockey and trainer races were runaways again this season, with Daniel Centeno blowing away the competition for leading rider for the third straight season. Coming into the final five days of the meet, Centeno had won 129 races, 40 more than second leading rider Rosemary Homeister Jr. Centeno still has an outside chance of breaking his own record for races won at a meet, 144, a mark he set last season.

Jamie Ness had 61 wins coming into the final five days, giving him a 16-win edge over Kirk Ziadie. Ness has been sending out winners at a 30 percent clip, while Ziadie has been winning at 31 percent.