02/05/2014 11:38AM

General Challenge, California champion, dies at 18

Barbara D. Livingston
General Challenge, pictured here at Golden Eagle Farm in March 2013, died Tuesday at age 18.

General Challenge, a three-time Grade 1 winner who earned nearly $2.9 million on the racetrack, was euthanized at Golden Eagle Farm in Ramona, Calif., on Tuesday. He was 18. The news was reported on Golden Eagle’s Facebook page, in a post that said the gelding’s health had deteriorated rapidly in the previous week.

Bred by Golden Eagle Farm owners John and Betty Mabee, General Challenge was by Golden Eagle stallion General Meeting and out of the farm’s blue hen mare Excellent Lady, who produced two other stakes winners, including Grade 1 winner Notable Career. Trained by Bob Baffert for the Mabees, General Challenge immediately gained notice on the West Coast during winter of 1998 into 1999, winning his first three starts and taking the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes and the Grade 2 Santa Catalina Stakes. After finishing fifth in the Louisiana Derby, the gelding returned to Santa Anita Park and won the Santa Anita Derby by 3 1/2 lengths over Prime Timber.

General Challenge finished 11th as part of the favored entry with stablemate Excellent Meeting in the Kentucky Derby, but thrived once back in California, taking three more graded stakes during 1999. His summer was highlighted by a three-length win in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar over River Keen. He was named California’s champion 3-year-old by the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

In 2000, General Challenge added two more graded stakes to his resume, highlighted by a 1 1/4-length win over Budroyale in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, and was voted California’s champion older male. After a long layoff, the gelding made three starts in 2003 before retiring to Golden Eagle with a career record of nine wins from 21 starts and $2,877,178 in earnings, which currently ranks seventh on the all-time California-bred earnings list.  He served as a stable pony at Golden Eagle during his retirement.