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General Quarters Tries Life On The Hedge In Firecracker 'Cap

| Churchill Downs Communications | 07/02/2011 #
  • General Quarters (gray, center) won the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Matt Winn Turf Course. (Reed Palmer, CD)

  • Tom McCarthy, owner-trainer of Firecracker Handicap (GII) favorite General Quarters. (Reed Palmer, CD)

  • Baryshnikov, inside under Julien Leparoux, finished second to Paddy O'Prado in Pimlico's Grade II Dixie Handicap

  • Julien Leparoux, the leading jockey in the 2011 Spring Meet, collected his 499th Churchill Downs victory on Friday.

GENERAL QUARTERS WILL BREAK FROM RAIL IN FIRECRACKER – Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters, a multiple Grade I winner with nearly $1.2 million in career earnings, drew the rail post in the field of eleven for the 21st running of the Grade II, $175,000-added Firecracker Handicap Presented by GE.

McCarthy, who claimed General Quarters for $20,000 out of his racing debut, is unsure how the 5-year-old son of Sky Mesa will handle racing from the hedge on the Matt Winn Turf Course.

“Drawing the rail is sometimes a good thing and it’s sometimes a bad thing,” McCarthy said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Firecracker will be the second start of the year for General Quarters, who returned from a near 10-month layoff to run second to multiple stakes winner Native Ruler in a seven furlong allowance race on the main track at Churchill Downs on June 10. General Quarters was being pointed to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships last year, but was taken out of training following an injury he sustained during training hours in September.

Now fully healthy, General Quarters, who captured the 2010 running of the Grade I Woodford Reserve Turf Classic, is ready for his Firecracker bid. He will carry the high weight of 119 pounds.

“The weight (119 pounds) isn’t too bad,” McCarthy said. “He’ll be able to handle it.”

After being knocked off the Breeders’ Cup trail last year, General Quarters could make another run for the World Championships this fall; however, McCarthy has not made a decision as to where he will send his gray Kentucky-bred from here.

"(Jockey) Jamie (Theriot) asked me earlier where we would go from here and I told him I don’t know,” McCarthy said. “We’ll see how this one goes.”

The one-mile race for 3-year-olds and up on the Matt Winn Turf Course is the final stakes of the Spring Meet and is scheduled as the 10th event on an 11-race Independence Day program. Post time is 5:25 p.m.

BARYSHNIKOV BIDS FOR SPOTLIGHT IN FIRECRACKER – Unlike Mikhail Baryshnikov, the famed Russian-born ballet prodigy for whom he is named, it has taken the equine model of Baryshnikov a good bit of time to find himself.'But Baryshnikov, the horse, has finally warmed to the spotlight and will enter Monday’s $175,000-added Firecracker Handicap Presented by GE (GII) as the 4-1 second choice in an expected field of 10 older horses that will compete in the one-mile race on the Matt Winn Turf Course.

Jeffrey Columbro and Conne Apostelos’ 5-year-old son of Empire Maker is a veteran of 34 races in a career that started in the barn of Hall of Famer Bill Mott at Churchill Downs in the autumn of his 2-year-old season.  But it is only now that Baryshnikov has emerged as a serious and competitive Thoroughbred.

Baryshnikov enters Monday’s race with seven career victories, but five of those have come in his last seven starts for trainer Mike Maker.  The hot streak started with a 3 ½-length victory in a Dec. 12 race over the synthetic Polytrack course at Turfway Park for $15,000 claimers that had not won three times in their careers.  Since that win, Baryshnikov scored the first stakes win of his career in Turfway’s Tejano Run and won an allowance race on the grass at Keeneland.  His only setbacks during the run were a third-place run in Turfway’s Dust Commander and, most impressively, a runner-up finish to the now-retired Grade I winner Paddy O’Prado in the $200,000-added Dixie Handicap (GII) on Pimlico’s Preakness undercard on May 21.

Though he was a low-level claimer just seven months back, Baryshnikov will enter the Firecracker as a major threat to two-time Grade I winner General Quarters, the 3-1 morning line favorite.

“We started him off for $15,000 just to try to boost his confidence – we didn’t think anybody would claim him because of his poor performances,” Maker said.  “But he’s just been gradually eased up the ladder and with every step he’s succeeded.  We’ve asked him to do a little more and he’s responded.”

Maker and Baryshnikov’s owners expected a strong effort in the Dixie, where their improving veteran was bet down to odds of 6-1, set a moderate pace and nearly stole the 1 1/8-mile race.  Paddy O’Prado, winner of the Secretariat (GI) and third in the Kentucky Derby (GI) at three, ran him down in the final yards.

“We kind of thought he might be able to beat that horse (Paddy O’Prado) with him coming off a lay-up,” Maker said, “but we were wrong.”

Monday’s Firecracker should be a good barometer for what a difference a year can make for a horse like Baryshnikov.  He competed in last year’s renewal, but finished 12th in a field of 14 behind the victorious Tizdejavu.  Baryshnikov was beaten 22 ¾ lengths and ran to his 20-1 post-time odds.

Maker expects a better showing for the late-developing Baryshnikov this time around.

“I think a mile or a mile and a sixteenth is probably a better distance for him than a mile and an eighth,” he said.  “He’s earned his chance.”

Julien Leparoux, the Spring Meet’s leading rider, has the mount on Baryshnikov in his bid to continue add luster to a career record that has improved to 7-6-5 in those 34 lifetime starts.  His bankroll has grown to $246,343, with $128,920 of that total banked in his five races this year.

The field for the Firecracker Handicap Presented by GE in post position order (with jockey, weight, and morning line odds) includes: General Quarters (Jamie Theriot, 119, 3-1), Omniscient (Manoel Cruz, 113, 20-1), Mister Marti Gras (Shaun Bridgmohan, 115, 5-1), El Caballo (Corey Lanerie, 114, 9-2), Mystic (Jesus Castanon, 114, 12-1), Joshua Reynolds (Brian Hernandez Jr., 114, 30-1), Baryshnikov (Leparoux, 117, 4-1), Plutonium (James Lopez, 112, 30-1), Strike Impact (Robby Albarado, 117, 8-1), Wise Dan (Jon Court, 115, 6-1) and Lubash (Kent Desormeaux, 115, 12-1).

LOTS OF PEDIGREE POTENTIAL ON DISPLAY IN SUNDAY MAIDEN RACE – The feature 10th race at Churchill Downs on Sunday, July 3 is a one mile allowance race for 3-year-olds and up over the Matt Winn Turf Course headed by James Tafel’s recent maiden winner Prado Dash, the 5-2 morning line favorite.

But the sixth race on the card, a $59,700 maiden special weight for 2-year-olds at six furlongs, is a contest that should be of great interest to racing fans as it appears to be filled with potential future stars.

Here is a quick preview of the field:

Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s Sabercat was purchased as a yearling for $120,000 at the Keeneland September sale. The son of Bluegrass Cat, one of two Steve Asmussen trainees in the race, battled through a troubled trip to finish fourth in his career debut on May 26 at Churchill Downs.

Willis Horton’s Laurie’s Rocket will elect to run in this maiden special weight event over Satudray’s Saturday’s Bashford Manor (GIII), and was scratched from that race. Purchased for $300,000 at the Keeneland September sale, Laurie’s Rocket was second to Bashford Manor contender Bonaparte career debut for trainer Dallas Stewart on May 30 at Churchill Downs.

Donegal Racing’s Dullahan was purchased for $250,000 at the Keeneland September sale. A son of Even the Score, Dullahan is a half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) winner Mine That Bird. The Kentucky-bred colt finished third to Stoneway Farm’s Exfactor in his career debut on June 9 at Churchill Downs. Exfactor is likely to be one of the top choices in Saturday’s Bashford Manor.

Joseph Witek’s homebred Tiz Sardonic Joe is a half-brother to graded stakes winner, Joes Blazing Aaron.  The son of Tiznow finished a disappointing seventh as the 9-5 favorite in his career debut on June 11 at Churchill Downs, but has turned in two “bullet” five furlong workouts at Trackside Louisville training center since that outing.

Chestnut Ridge ThoroughbredsMr Saturday, a son of Any Given Saturday, was purchased for $50,000 at the Keeneland September sale. Corey Lanerie will ride the colt for trainer Eddie Kenneally.

Gameday News, a $350,000 Keeneland September purchase owned by Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas an former National Football League coach Bill Parcells, will make his debut under jockey Jon Court.

Stephen Baker’s Saturday Launch, who is out of the multiple stakes-placed mare Ardum Relaunch, was purchased at the Keeneland September sale for $65,000 and makes his debut for trainer Ken McPeek.

Cathy and Bob ZollarsDaddy Nose Best, the other Asmussen trainee and a $35,000 purchase at the Keeneland September Sale, ran second to Bashford Manor contender Exfactor in his June 9 debut under three-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux.

Michael Harrison’s Whistleblower, a $40,000 Fasig-Tipton July yearling by Grand Slam, ran fifth in his debut effort after jumping in the air at the break.

John Oxley’s Lockout, a 2-year-old son of Limehouse, was purchased for $37,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale and the Mark Casse-trained colt will make his career debut Sunday under Shaun Bridgmohan. Lockout turned in a five-furlong workout on June 16 at Churchill Downs in 1:00, which was the fastest of that morning’s 13 moves at the distance.

Wind River StablesBig Blue Nation is out of the graded stakes winning mare Lilah and was purchased for $85,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ 2-year-olds in training sale in March. The son of Bluegrass Cat will be ridden by Jesus Castanon for trainer Rusty Arnold.

Galen Ho’o’s Granite Harbor, who was purchased for $35,000 at the Barretts March sale as a 2-year-old in training, will make his debut Sunday for trainer David Vance.

Rounding out the field on the also-eligible list is Patricia Blass’ homebred Bluegrass Shoes, who is out of the multiple stakes-winning Pink Shoes. Bluegrass Shoes is a half-brother to two stakes winners: Prom Shoes, a multiple stakes winner with $484,940 in earnings and Wildcat Shoes, who won eight of his 20 starts on his way to $352,512 in earnings. Bluegrass Shoes was second to runaway winner Brown Eyed Jozi in his career debut at Churchill Downs on June 18 for trainer Jinks Fires.

BARN TALK – Ed Few’s Lil Cherokee, winner of the Texas Thoroughbred Association Sales Futurity at Lone Star Park in his most recent start, has been scratched from Saturday’s Bashford Manor. “He’s perfectly healthy,” assistant trainer Dennis Geier said. “We just didn’t like the post.” Lil Cherokee was set to start from the rail in the six-furlong event following the scratch of Willis Horton’s Laurie’s Rocket, who had originally drawn post position one. No plans have been made for Lil Cherokee’s next start. …

Leading rider Julien Leparoux recorded his 499th Churchill Downs victory aboard Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s Raven Hawk in Friday’s eighth race for Steve Asmussen, the leading trainer at the meet. Leparoux has no mounts beneath the Twin Spires on Saturday because he is riding at Belmont Park; however, he will attempt to become just the tenth jockey to record 500 wins at Churchill Downs with one of his ten mounts on Sunday (Races 1-6, 8-11). …

Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge Qualifying Tournament will take place at Churchill Downs on Sunday, July 3. Registration will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Champions Club Lounge. The entry fee is $100 per entry and the tournament is limited to 400 entries with a limit of three per person. The winner will receive entry to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge ($10,000 value) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4-5, 2011. Consolation prize money will be paid to the top eighth finishers. …

The 3rd Annual Horsemen’s Golf Scramble at Glenmary’s Country Club on Monday, Aug. 29. Registration begins at 11 a.m. and the cost is $100 per player with four players to a team. Lunch will also begin at 11 a.m. and the shotgun start is at 12:30 p.m. Those interested may pick up a form from The Backside Learning Center and return it by Friday, Aug. 12. …

WHO’S HOT – The hottest jockey over the last five racing days (June 24-July 1) is Julien Leparoux (12-for-40). Mike Maker (4-for-8), Bill Mott (4-for-9) and Eddie Kenneally (4-for-11) are the hottest trainers over the same period. James S. Karp (2-for-2), Kenneth L. and Sarah K. Ramsey (2-for-5) and Midwest Thoroughbreds Inc. (2-for-12) are the hottest owners.

WORKTAB – The Virginia H. Tarra Trust’s Giant Oak, fifth to William S. Farish Jr.’s Pool Play in the Grade I Stephen Foster Presented by Abu Dhabi (GI) in his most recent start, breezed four furlongs in a “bullet” time of :47.60 over a fast main track at Churchill Downs on Saturday morning for trainer Chris Block, who will point the 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway to the Whitney Handicap (GI) at Saratoga on Aug. 6.

Zayat Stables LLC’s Benergy, second to Glen Hill Farm’s Banned in the Grade III Jefferson Cup Presented by Abu Dhabi in his most recent start, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60 over the main track for trainer Dale Romans.

Chasing Dreams Racing 2008 LLC’s Noble’s Promise, who won the Grade III Aristides at Churchill Downs in his most recent start, breezed five furlongs in :59.40, which was the fastest time of 21 workers at the distance Saturday morning.

WEATHER – Saturday: mostly sunny, 92. Sunday: mostly sunny with a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 91. Monday: partly sunny with a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 88. Tuesday: mostly sunny, 90. Wednesday: mostly sunny, 90. Thursday: partly sunny with a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms, 89. Friday: mostly sunny, 90.