04/23/2009 11:00PM

General Quarters a question mark

Barbara D. Livingston
General Quarters, under Julie Sheets, gets in a five-furlong workout Thursday, with his final eighth in 13.13 seconds.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Setting the alarm clock early paid real dividends on Thursday morning at Churchill Downs, in light of the fact that the vast majority of the Kentucky Derby contenders were out and back to the barn by 7:45 a.m. including the session's lone worker, General Quarters. Much of that activity took place during the morning's first two sets, which are completed before sunrise.

Churchill Downs

Clear, track fast, 52 degrees

Thursday morning dawned crisp and clear with the racetrack producing, on average, significantly faster workout times than it had for the past several days.

General Quarters (five furlongs in 1:01.79 seconds): He showed up, as scheduled, at 7 a.m. and appeared to be under some encouragement to get into work mode approaching the five-furlong pole. With regular exercise rider Julie Sheets aboard, General Quarters went off at a reasonable pace, cutting out fractions of 12.24, 24.35, 36.22, and 48.64 seconds for the opening half-mile while changing leads pretty much on cue entering the stretch. Unfortunately, he never really leveled off through the final furlong, coming home his final eighth in a lackluster 13.13 seconds, especially considering the rapid nature of the course. He also shut down a bit quickly during the gallop-out, pulling up six furlongs in 1:16.09.

As mentioned in previous days, General Quarters does not have the most efficient-looking stride, which was evident as he came down the stretch with his high, turf-like action. His performance in the Blue Grass, over Polytrack, was extraordinary, and one wonders if he's definitely more suited to artificial surfaces or if it is simply taking him a little longer to bounce back completely from the taxing effort in his last start.

Desert Party and Join in the Dance were both out immediately after the racetrack opened at 6 a.m. Desert Party swapped spots on the schedule with stablemate Regal Ransom, who is usually the first of the Godolphin runners to train, but today was held back until 7:15 a.m. to allow him to also visit the starting gate. And even under the cloak of darkness, it was readily apparent that Desert Party continues to do well, especially as he came cruising down the stretch nearing the conclusion of his training regimen.

I Want Revenge made one do a double-take to check his markings for identification purposes (he did not train in his personal Kentucky Derby saddle towel) the way he ripped past the grandstand shortly after Desert Party and Join in the Dance. For a horse who had breezed just 48 hours earlier, I Want Revenge was extremely sharp galloping out past the crown of the racetrack. The manner in which he trained seems to be an obvious indication that Tuesday's work did little to drain the tank at a very crucial stage of his Derby preparations.

Every time I looked up it seemed like Musket Man kept passing by the finish line. And indeed that was pretty much the case as the Illinois Derby winner galloped 2 1/2 miles on Thursday while finishing up at a brisk, two-minute clip.

"That's pretty much routine for him and not something we've added because he's going a mile and one-quarter in the Derby," said trainer Derek Ryan.

Musket Man is scheduled to work again on Saturday.

Square Eddie appears none the worse for wear from his fairly grueling effort in last Saturday's Lexington Stakes. He breezed around the track during a very impressive-looking gallop. Square Eddie is certainly one of the more appealing looking members of this year's Derby field, a bright chestnut with a flowing and very unique-looking flaxen tail.

Papa Clem, like Musket Man, completed his morning's work by being given an opportunity to really stretch his legs at the end. dropping down near the rail once past the finish line and cruising through a series of 14-and-change eighth-mile splits before finally pulling up in the vicinity of the half-mile pole.

Pioneerof the Nile had a relatively easy morning on his first day back to the track following Tuesday's sharp workout, merely jogging and visiting the starting gate shortly after the renovation break.