General Quarters races way into the Derby

The Baltimore Sun

General Quarters is heading home to the Kentucky Derby.

The 3-year-old colt overtook pacesetter Join in the Dance at the top of the stretch, then held off favorite Hold Me Back by 1 1/2 lengths to win the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.

General Quarters, owned and trained by retired Louisville principal Thomas McCarthy and ridden by Eibar Coa, covered the 1 1/8 miles on Keeneland's Polytrack in 1 minute, 49.26 seconds and paid $30.60, $11 and $7.

"I think he exhibited the tenacity to go on to the Derby," McCarthy said.

Did he ever.

General Quarters struggled in his previous start, a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby last month, when he seemed rattled by running in traffic.

Coa, making his first start aboard General Quarters, made sure his mount didn't get too dirty this time. He pushed forward early, just off the shoulder of Join in the Dance. He stalked the leader on the backstretch and made his move at the turn, pulling ahead at the top of the stretch, then digging in when Hold Me Back started to close.

"He was very professional today," Coa said. "He showed today he's going to be ready for [the Derby]."

Hold Me Back rallied six wide in the stretch but couldn't duplicate the magnificent move that propelled him to victory in the Lane's End three weeks ago. He paid $4.20 and $3.

Massone was third and paid $7.20 in one of the final prep races for next month's Derby - a race that will probably go on without Mafaaz.

The English horse earned an automatic spot in the Run for the Roses by winning the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton Park outside London last month.

Trainer John Gosden entered Mafaaz in the Blue Grass to see whether he could match up with his North American brethren. Mafaaz never challenged, finishing eighth and jeopardizing his chances of running at Churchill Downs in three weeks.

Arkansas Derby: Papa Clem held off Old Fashioned in the stretch to hand the one-time Kentucky Derby favorite his second straight defeat at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. Old Fashioned broke toward the front immediately and held the lead for a while, but Papa Clem took command just after the second turn in the 1 1/8 -mile race. Old Fashioned fought back gamely along the rail but came up about a half-length short. Old Fashioned was unbeaten before his loss in the Rebel Stakes last month. Papa Clem, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, won for the first time since December. The colt is trained by Gary Stute. After winning the $1 million Arkansas Derby, Papa Clem is assured of enough graded stakes earnings to qualify for the Kentucky Derby in three weeks. A son of Smart Strike, Papa Clem paid $10 on a $2 win ticket. He finished in 1:49.01 on the fast track. Long shot Summer Bird closed impressively to take third.

Dahlia Stakes: All Smiles closed with a rush to win the $50,000 race contested over the sloppy main track at Laurel Park. The race had been carded for the turf but was switched to the dirt after steady rain, which resulted in six late scratches. Under jockey Jeremy Rose, All Smiles was last starting for home when she split horses and angled to the far outside for the run to the finish line. First Ascent was a length back, and British Event finished third. All Smiles, trained by Frannie Campitelli, completed the one-mile race in 1:39.12 and paid $8.60. Frannie Campitelli trains the winner.

More Laurel Park: The 15-week winter meeting ended with Rose, Scott Lake and Robert Cole winning individual titles. After beginning the year 1-for-24, Rose won 49 of his final 176 mounts to capture the jockey title with 50 victories, 10 more than Luis Garciato, to secure his first riding title since capturing the 2007 Laurel winter crown. Lake reigned supreme in the trainer standings, winning 44 races, 12 more than John Rigattieri. Cole ruled the owner standings, finishing first 25 times from just 67 starts, an impressive winning percentage of .370.

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