07/16/2010 12:00AM

General Quarters revives his saga

Barbara D. Livingston
General Quarters has re-emerged as one of the nation's top 4-year-olds and will be a prime contender in Saturday's 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, three seconds, and a third from his five 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.