07/14/2010 6:38PM

General Quarters resurfaces better than ever for Arlington Handicap


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. – When General Quarters won the 2009 Blue Grass Stakes and went on to the Kentucky Derby, the story-line screamed, ‘Write me!’ And any scribe covering last year’s Derby readily obliged. The horse had been claimed early in his 2-year-old campaign by Tom McCarthy, a retired school teacher with half a foot in the racing business. McCarthy owned the horse and trained him too – the sort of one-horse stable that quickly fills a turf writer’s notebook.

But General Quarters finished 10th in the Derby, and then he was ninth in the Preakness. The story had been good: The horse, it must have seemed to many, not so much. General Quarters went under the knife to repair some injuries, and then went on to the shelf for most of the rest of 2009. Gone, and generally forgotten.

But no one told McCarthy and General Quarters that their season in the sun had come and gone. McCarthy slowly and steadily brought General Quarters back into action, and voila – the one-horse stable has accomplished more in 2010 than any of the other 19 horses to have started in the 2009 Derby. Musket Man is having a solid season, but General Quarters comes into Saturday’s Arlington Handicap – which McCarthy hopes is a stepping-stone to the Arlington Million on Aug. 21 – with a win, 3 seconds, and a third from his 5 starts this year. Last out, he finished a creditable third behind Blame and Battle Plan in the Stephen Foster, while two starts ago, General Quarters won the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill, his first victory in two grass starts.

A sweltering Wednesday found General Quarters and Mr. McCarthy engaged in a highly unpleasant venture: Battling traffic on the last leg of a journey from Churchill to Arlington. Dodging semi-trailers in northern Indiana, McCarthy managed to speak briefly to the somewhat surprising second act in which he and General Quarters are currently engaged.

“Sure I did,:” McCarthy said, asked if he had thought a year ago about what 2010 might hold for General Quarters, a powerful gray colt who pulls him around the barn every morning. “I spent long and hard thinking about where to go and how to do things. You can’t train these horses to death all the time.”

General Quarters and McCarthy finally had some luck, breaking through in the Turf Classic after three close calls over the winter at Fair Grounds. Now, in the Grade 3, $150,000 Arlington Handicap, General Quarters has become the horse to beat. He drew post 9 when Arlington’s three graded turf stakes were drawn Wednesday afternoon. Rafael Bejarano, aboard for the Turf Classic win, has been named to ride.

Modesty comes up strong

General Quarters was one of 11 horses entered in the Arlington Handicap, which drew a surprisingly high number of entries Wednesday. But Saturday’s Million Preview Day is generally surprising, and in a good way.

The Million Preview moniker has, in some years past, not exactly described the nature of the stakes races, but this year’s three stakes rate as excellent as a whole. Besides General Quarters, the Arlington Handicap attracted defending champion and 2009 Million runner-up Just as Well, plus Grade 1 winner Marsh Side and Free Fighter, who won the Louisville Handicap two starts back.

But the real gem among the three stakes is the Modesty Handicap, which got only six entrants, but has more quality than any previous edition of the race. Heading the field is Tuscan Evening, who has won all five of her starts in 2010, and ships in from California for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Trainer Jonathan Sheppard just failed to beat Tuscan Evening with Forever Together in the Grade 1 Gamely on May 29, and Saturday he takes a shot with the talented Rainbow View. Rainbow View may be the race’s third choice, however, with Grade 1 winner Hot Cha Cha likely to be second favorite behind Tuscan Evening.

The Grade 2, $200,000 American Derby drew a field of nine, headed by Workin for Hops, winner of the Arlington Classic, and Gleam of Hope, last-out winner of the Jefferson Cup at Churchill Downs.

◗ Arlington will create two courses out of its wide grass oval for Saturday, placing a temporary rail in lane 5, around which the stakes will be run. Other turf races on the program will be contested on the inner course. Arlington employed the two-course setup on several days last year, but has not done so yet during the 2010 meet.