Racing & Wagering

Barn Notes: Saturday, August 27

| Churchill Downs Communications | 08/27/2011 #

In Today's Notes: General Quarters Marching into Washington Park 'Cap; Washington Park Workers Saturday Morning at Arlington

Tom McCarthy's General Quarters, who won Keeneland's Grade I Blue Grass Stakes over the Lexington Polytrack in 2009 and Churchill's Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf over the Louisville lawn last year, will return to Polytrack for the first time since his Blue Grass victory for Arlington's Grade III Washington Park Handicap Sept. 3.

The Washington Park Handicap, which will be observing its 77th renewal on this upcoming Labor Day weekend, was first run at Arlington Park in 1958. The race's history is as colorful as that of Tom McCarthy, General Quarters' 77-year-old owner-trainer who began training horses in his teenage years but also had a career in education including a stint as a high school principal in Louisville.

McCarthy brought General Quarters to Chicago's northwest suburban oval for last year's Grade III Arlington Handicap and Grade I Arlington Million with disappointing sixth and seventh-place finishes over the local lawn. A knee chip necessitating surgery was discovered shortly after the Million and a long layoff ensued – partially on a Kentucky farm and partially at New Orleans' Fair Grounds last winter.

The 5-year-old son of Sky Mesa had his first race back in a seven-furlong $100,000 optional claiming race June 10 over Churchill's main track and he finished second by a neck after racing wide throughout. His second race back – in Churchill's Grade II Firecracker Handicap on July 4 – proved unfortunate for both the horse and his septuagenarian conditioner.

General Quarters finished seventh in the Firecracker without ever launching a serious bid, and McCarthy, who had suffered dizzy spells throughout the afternoon, was transported by ambulance to the hospital shortly after the race.

Fortunately, both the hands-on-owner-trainer-groom-hotwalker and his horse are doing a lot better in the month of August.

McCarthy's own health has made an impressive comeback recently and General Quarters accomplished a bullet five furlong breeze in 1:01 flat over Churchill's main track Wednesday.

"The track was dead that day," said McCarthy of General Quarters' encouraging mid-week move. "Most of the horses went five furlongs in 1:04, but he just poured it on. He got the last eighth in 11 seconds. Jamie Theriot, who has been riding him, got hurt that morning, so my old friend Jon Court got on him for the work and he couldn't believe how well he went. He was very impressed, so if Jamie can't ride him next week, Jon will come up to ride him."

More important was the status of McCarthy's own health after that scary trip to the hospital on America's Birthday, and he was asked about that.

"I don't remember too much about that day," said McCarthy. "I'd been feeling lousy for several days and by the time they got me to the hospital I was pretty much out of it, but I guess when they got me to the hospital all my vital signs checked out all right so they had to look for something else. Eventually, they discovered my electrolytes were way out of balance.

"A whole lot of things had been happening to me leading up to that day," said McCarthy. "That same tornado that tore up those barns at Churchill uprooted a tree in our yard at home and sent it through the roof of our house while my wife (Pat) and I were inside. Fortunately, we were not hurt but something like that takes its toll on you.

"I'm feeling a lot better now," McCarthy said. "I've had to change a few things. I'm eating a lot healthier foods now, and they've got me taking a lot of vitamins these days so everything seems to be coming around for me.

"I'll send the horse up there on the shuttle next Thursday after he has a gallop earlier that morning. He'll go to Cory's (Arlington trainer Patton's) barn and I'll drive up there to get in town Friday afternoon and stay there Friday and Saturday night. I'm looking forward to coming back to Arlington. Everybody treated us so well there last year, and hopefully the horse will run a lot better this time. He's certainly been acting like he will over these last few days."

Washington Park projected runner Workin for Hops, owned by Estrorace LLC, breezed five furlongs in 1:00 flat Saturday morning with Hilary Pridham in the irons.

Trained by Mike Stidham, Workin for Hops won this spring's Grade III Hanshin Cup over the Polytrack at Arlington and last year's $100,000 Arlington Classic and Grade II American Derby over Arlington's world famous turf course.

Two Gerard Butler trainees, Michael Deegan's 4-year-old filly Maristar and Asaad Al Banwan's 3-year-old colt Burj Alzain, worked seven furlongs in company in possible preparation for the Washington Park Handicap. Maristar got the distance in 1:25.60 and Burj Alzain went 1:26.60.