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Eibar Coa and General Quarters after winning the 2009 Toyota Blue Grass

Toyota Blue Grass Day at Keeneland

Date: 04/11/2009

The $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at Keeneland Race Course is one of the final major preps for the Kentucky Derby, with 2007 runner-up Street Sense the most recent of the 16 participants since 1950 to go on to wear the Roses. This year, a field of eleven 3-year-olds contested this 1 1/8 mile trip over the Polytrack at Keeneland Race Course on Saturday, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 50's, in contrast to the heavy rains that fell on Friday. WinStar Farm homebred Hold Me Back sent off as the 2-1 favorite, exiting a win in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. In to challenge him included 4-1 second choice Theregoesjojo, third in the Florida Derby after finishing second in the Fountain of Youth, and 6-1 third choice Charitable Man, undefeated in 2 lifetime starts, but making his first start since winning the Futurity at Belmont Park in September.
General Quarters on the outside while Join in the Dance leads shortly after the start of the Blue Grass

When the gate opened, Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes winner and 9-1 shot Mafaaz broke in air and was off slowly, as 14-1 Join in the Dance was sent to the early lead by jockey John Velazquez. While being stalked by Theregoesjojo to his outside and 11-1 Massone to his inside, he set easy fractions of 24.40, 49.06, and 1:13.31 over the fast Polytrack. 14-1 General Quarters, who sat in midpack fifth first time past the stands, gradually gained on the leaders down the backstretch. Turning for home, Join in the Dance tired and dropped from contention, as General Quarters took over the lead at the 3/16 pole. Favorite Hold Me Back, who was unhurried in 9th early, came out wide for the drive and closed well but was left with too much ground to make up, as General Quarters easily held him off by 1 1/2 lengths at the line, completing the 9 furlong trip in 1:49.26. It was another 1 1/4 lengths back to Massone third.

Pgm  Horse              Jockey         Win   Place  Show
 8   General Quarters   Coa          30.60   11.00  7.00
10   Hold Me Back       Desormeaux            4.20  3.00
11   Massone            Gomez                       7.20

Winning Time:  1:49:26

$2 Exacta 8-10-11           $117.60
$2 Trifecta 8-10-11         $828.45
$0.10 Superfecta 8-10-11-6  $463.09
Results Chart from DRF.

Left: General Quarters in the winner's circle with owner/trainer Tom McCarthy at his hip. Winning owner and trainer Thomas McCarthy said, "He trained like a champion all week, and after that breeze last week (a bullet 5 furlongs in 58.20) I knew I had him right where I wanted him. I think he exhibited the tenacity to go on to the (Kentucky) Derby."

Right: General Quarters heads for the winner's circle.

Left: General Quarters heads out for the post parade. Winning jockey Eibar Coa said, "I saw (the Sam F. Davis), and I loved the way he ran. I also saw the Tampa Bay Derby, where he got in a lot of traffic. Mr. McCarthy told me just to run his race (and said), 'Without traffic, I know he is going to show up today.' He (General Quarters) was pretty good. He broke sharp. He placed himself in a very good position. He was very professional today. He allowed me to settle behind horses and wait for me until I asked him. In the straight, he gave me what he had. He showed up today, and he's definitely going to be one of the horses to beat in the Derby."

Right: General Quarters in the paddock before the race.

Left: General Quarters heads returns after the race.

Right: The trophy presentation for the Blue Grass with owner/trainer Tom McCarthy shaking hands with jockey Eibar Coa. McCarthy is a 75 years old retired school teacher and this is his first Kentucky Derby horse. He claimed him from Ken and Sarah Ramsey for $20,000 in his maiden debut.

Second place finisher and beaten favorite Hold Me Back returns after the race. Elliott Walden, vice president of racing for owner WinStar Farm, said, "He ran well, very well. A little wide on both turns, but they went slow up front and he finished strong. I don't see why not (run in the Derby). We're very pleased with the effort but we'll let the horse tell us." Trainer Bill Mott added, "If you look at the upside it's a good thing he gave an honest and hard race. Have a little more pace down the road: That can't hurt him. The camp is anxious to go to Churchill." His jockey Kent Desormeaux said, "He handled the crowd and the parade, all the horses around him, he did all of that really well.  I think he's been fine-tuned today, and the next one is the one we shoot for.  I would have liked to have won today, of course, but it was a very encouraging effort."

Third place finisher Massone returns after the race. His trainer Ron McAnally said, "We were worried about the slow pace, but Garrett (Gomez) rode him perfectly. He is not nominated to the Triple Crown, so he will go back to California." His jockey Garrett Gomez said, "He ran his eyeballs out. He really tried. He gave 130% today. From post 11, I thought they were going to move along pretty good and then back up. They left away from there and I got situated when they backed the pace up. I was able to save a lot of ground and the rail was wide open. I just snuck up the fence and made up 5 lengths before the first turn. He ran really good."

Immediately before the Blue Grass Stakes, a field of seven older fillies and mares competed in the $200,000 Jenny Wiley Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles on the Haggin turf course. As expected, Forever Together was sent off as the even-money choice, making her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Hillsborough Stakes winner Backseat Rhythm was the 7-2 second choice over 9-2 third choice I Lost My Choo, winner of the Honey Fox last out.

11-1 Kiss With a Twist battled for the lead with I Lost My Choo and Backseat Rhythm through slow fractions of 25.92, 51.83, and 1:17.12 over the "good" turf course, while jockey Julien Leparoux kept Forever Together near the back of the field for the first 6 furlongs. On the turn, Leparoux took her wide for the drive and she reeled in the leaders on her own while being followed by 6-1 Rutherienne. The pair battled up to the 1/8 pole, when Forever Together pulled ahead to win by 1 length in 1:46.93. It was just a neck back to pacesetter Kiss With a Twist third.
Results Chart from DRF.

Left: Forever Together in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Jonathan Sheppard said, "She looked just like a champion should out there. She really has seemed to find a new lease on life (since switching to turf). She's got more confidence, more poise, and I think she knows she's special. She looks like it, and she acts like it. I feel very blessed to have such wonderful horses. It certainly makes my job a lot easier.  

Right: Forever Together in the paddock. Winning jockey Julien Leparoux said, "She's a champion. Every time I ask her to do something, she does it. When you ask her to go, she's got a very good kick. We knew the race wasn't going to have any speed, but we didn't want to change how to ride her. She was much the best anyway."

Left: Second place finisher Rutherienne in the paddock. Her jockey Alan Garcia said, "My filly ran very good, but we just got beat by a better horse."

Right: Third place finisher Kiss With a Twist in the post parade. Her jockey Miguel Mena said, "She's the kind of horse that needs to stalk somebody. She gets a little complacent on the front end. The horses start coming to her, she wants to come back and fight. But there was no speed in the race."

A field of eight older sprinters went 7 furlongs on the Polytrack in the $250,000 Commonwealth Stakes (G2). Last year's winner Rebellion was sent off as the 2-1 favorite, exiting a 9th place showing in the Citation Handicap, over My Pal Charlie at 3-1, fifth in the New Orleans Handicap last out, and Keep Laughing at 9-2, exiting an allowance victory at Gulfstream.

6-1 Ravalo and My Pal Charlie battled for the lead down the backstretch through a quarter in 23.16 and a half in 46.12, with 11-2 Eternal Star stalking them in third the whole way. The pace battle continued to the 1/8 pole, through 3/4 in 1:09.37, but both weakened in the final 1/16. This allowed Eternal Star to take over the lead inside the 1/16 pole and hold off the late-running favorite Rebellion in the final strides to win by 3/4 length in 1:21.17. It was just 1/2 a length back to My Pal Charlie third.
Results Chart from DRF.

Left: Eternal Star in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Michael Trombetta said, "He's been a lot of fun. He's had some tough beats this year, but this one made up for a lot of those. As I told (Eibar Coa), this was his first time riding him and this is the first time (for Eternal Star to race on) synthetic, this horse is very versatile. He'll run on the lead; he'll run from next to last. He does his thing."

Right: Eternal Star heads out for the post parade. Winning jockey Eibar Coa said, "I really had a perfect trip. He broke good. I was a little concerned about the first part of the race because he was going a little slow. But I didn't want to make any changes. I wanted to just stick with my plan, which was to follow some horses. So I had those two horses in front of me, and he picked them off by the half mile so I was pretty happy where I was. When I switched him to the outside, he just gave me what he had."

Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Rebellion in the paddock with trainer Graham Motion on the right. Motion said, "I thought he ran great. Our one concern before the race was a lack of pace and that he would have to be up closer than we would like him to be. All in all, I thought it was a good effort." His jockey Edgar Prado said, "There wasn't a lot of speed in the race so our plan was to stay a little bit closer today. I thought I was in good striking distance. He made a nice dutiful run. We just couldn't get by (the winner). I was very happy with his race."

Right: Third place finisher My Pal Charlie in the paddock. His jockey Julien Leparoux said, "I really had no excuse. We ran a good race but we just got beat today. We weren't going that fast up front but the pace wasn't the problem. We just got beat today."

Kicking off the stakes action on Blue Grass day was the $100,000 Shakertown Stakes (G3), a 5 1/2 furlong sprint on the Haggin turf course. Mr. Nightlinger, 11th in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint last out, was sent off as the 2-1 favorite in the field of 11 older horses over 3-1 second choice Hellvelyn, an allowance winner at Gulfstream in his last start, and 9-2 third choice Chamberlain Bridge, 9th in the Turf Dash at Tampa Bay after winning the Colonel Power at the Fair Grounds.

Mr. Nightlinger opened up a clear lead down the backstretch down on the rail after an initial 1/4 in a quick 22.25, with Chamberlain Bridge stalking him in second out 4 wide the whole way. Mr. Nightlinger continued to lead into the stretch, getting the half in 45.87 before tiring to eventually finish fifth. Chamberlain Bridge took over the lead at the 3/16 pole, but 5-1 Heros Reward and 9-1 Cannonball closed strongly down the center of the course, and the three hit the line together. Heros Reward prevailed by a head over Cannonball in 1:04.24, and it was just another head back to Chamberlain Bridge third.
Results Chart from DRF.

Left: Heros Reward in the winner's circle. Winning jockey Javier Castellano said, "That's exactly what I saw before the race (a possible blanket finish). Mr. Capuano told me to watch the speed in the race today and there was a lot of speed on the rail. I waited until we were turning for home and he responded well."

Right: Heros Reward returns after the race. Winning trainer Dale Capuano said, "He's been a terrific horse to have. He runs in all types of turf courses. He's a gem. I was worried (about the photo finish) but he's pretty game. When he got his head in front, I knew he'd be able to stay there. We might stay here for the race at Churchill on Oaks Day (Aegon Turf Sprint). We'll just see how he comes out of the race."

Left: Second place finisher Cannonball heads out of the paddock. His jockey Rene Douglas said, "I was so excited down the stretch; my heart got big, my horse got big. I thought it was one of my best performances. My horse didn't give up and neither did I."

Right: Third place finisher Chamberlain Bridge returns after the race. His jockey Garrett Gomez said, "The ground is really soft out there. It's really hard on the sprinters that are really fast up front because the ground is really soft underneath them. My horse ran really good. He got beat a neck for the whole thing, and he ran a really good race."

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