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Derby Week Notes: General Quarters, Giant Oak, Baffert, Lukas, Jockeys, Rachel Alexandra and more!

Tom McCarthy’s General Quarters, one of the favorites for Saturday’s Grade II New Orleans Handicap, breezed a half-mile in 49.40 Sunday morning in a move that left his owner-trainer’s Irish eyes smiling while he cooled out his colt following the encouraging work.

“It was the way he finished up that really was so encouraging,” said McCarthy of the breeze accomplished with jockey Jamie Theriot in the irons. “He went the first three-eighths in 37 and change, but I got him coming home the last eighth in 11 flat.  Jamie said the track was really dead – it had no spring to it at all – but my horse felt really strong under him and seemed really happy out there. Jamie loved being on him.

“I would have to say this horse is doing better right now than I’ve seen him do all winter,” concluded McCarthy. “Maybe that little break in his training last week was just what he needed.”

General Quarters did not go to the track for three days last week after sustaining a bruise on his left front just above the fetlock.

In his last trip to the post, General Quarters finished second by a neck in the Grade III Mineshaft Handicap as the final major local prep for the New Orleans Handicap that was run Feb. 20.

Giant Oak Breezes Five Furlongs in 1:01 Sunday
Virginia Tarra’s Giant Oak, a highly regarded candidate for Saturday’s Grade II New Orleans Handicap who finished third in the $100,000 Mineshaft Handicap Feb. 20, breezed five furlongs in 1:01 Saturday morning in preparation for his upcoming assignment.

“(Giant Oak) was on an exceptional roll this morning,” said trainer Neil Pessin shortly after the breeze, accomplished with James Graham in the irons. “He did the last eighth in 11 and change and when he came back to the barn he couldn’t blow out a match. We have no excuses now going into Saturday’s race. He couldn’t be doing any better.”

Pessin also breezed Lothenbach Stables’ Mister Marti Gras five-eighths in 1:02 in possible preparation for Saturday’s $750,000 Louisiana Derby at nine furlongs.  

“We’ll discuss it with his owners whether we end up going in that race or in another spot,” said Pessin, “and make a final decision later in the week.”

‘Improving’ Jody Slew Entered in Friday’s Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks
Martin Racing Stable and Dan Morgan’s Jody Slew, who was considered “unlikely” for Friday’s Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks Saturday morning due to days of missed training after being cast in her stall last week, was doing much better Sunday morning during training hours and was entered in Friday’s main event of the season for 3-year-old fillies.

“She jogged a mile and galloped a mile this morning and looked good doing it,” said trainer Bret Calhoun shortly after her Sunday training. “She looked very happy out there, so we’ll continue to take it day-by-day this week and not make any decisions (on the Fair Grounds Oaks start) until we have to. But her performance today was very encouraging for us.”

Should Jody Slew run in the Fair Grounds Oaks and win it, she would become the first filly in Fair Grounds history to sweep all three legs of the Crescent City oval’s series for 3-year-old members of the distaff set, after winning the $75,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes here Jan. 23 and then coming back to capture the Grade III Silverbulletday Stakes Feb. 20.

Rachel Alexandra Back in Full Swing in Recent Days
Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, who accelerated her championship campaign last season with a win in the 2009 Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks, has been full of herself in recent mornings, according to Fair Grounds clocker Billy Pettingill.

“Rachel Alexandra has been galloping along pretty good in the last couple of days,” said Pettingill Sunday morning. “This morning she went along in about a mile and a half gallop and they let her run along pretty good through traffic. They haven’t backed off on her a bit.

Steve (Asmussen) brought her to the track himself today,” said Pettingill of Rachel Alexandra’s Eclipse Award-winning trainer.

Baffert Says The Program Will Handle Dirt
Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stables’ The Program will be making his first start on dirt after eight races over Southern California’s synthetic surfaces but his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert does not foresee the surface switch presenting any problems.

“He should handle it alright,” Baffert said by phone Sunday morning. “We won’t know until it happens.”

Baffert, who will not be in New Orleans for the race, has been encouraged by the reports he’s received since The Program arrived in New Orleans on March 10.

“He’s doing good,” Baffert said. “Bret Calhoun is training for me so we’ll see how he does.”

The Program, who is stabled in Calhoun’s barn, breezed four furlongs in :52 on Saturday, among the slowest times of the morning at that distance.

“He started off easy but finished up well,” said Calhoun. “He went by himself yesterday, but Bob has usually worked him in company.”

Lukas Says Wow Wow Wow Training ‘Very Well’
Marylou Whitney’s homebred Wow Wow Wow, preparing for the Grade II Louisiana Derby, breezed five furlongs in 59.40 at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, the fastest of 29 moves at the distance.

“That was a little quicker than we wanted but he did it by himself and did it awfully easy,” Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said by phone from Hot Springs, Ark. “If they do it easy then it’s OK. I would have liked him to have gone a little slower but he’s good right now. He’s training very well and I think we have to give him a chance.”

Wow Wow Wow broke his maiden around two turns at Fair Grounds in November before finishing fifth in a January allowance behind two locally based Louisiana Derby probables, Stay Put and Letsgetitonmon. In February, having moved to the Lukas barn at Oaklawn, the Broken Vow colt led gate to wire while clearing his first-level allowance condition. Last time out, Wow Wow Wow set the pace in Aqueduct’s Grade III Gotham Stakes before fading to eighth.

“We vanned him (to Aqueduct) from Hot Springs and it was a two-day trip and I just think it was too much for him,” Lukas said. “We couldn’t get an airplane. I really think it was one of those races where he bounced coming off of an awful big effort here (at Oaklawn). I’m drawing a line through it and I’d like to see the horse I ran here in the allowance.”

Jockey Assignments for Saturday’ Grade II Louisiana Derby
Probable jockey assignments for Saturday’s Grade II Louisiana Derby, which with its new $750,000 purse will be the richest running of the centerpiece race of the New Orleans season, were announced Sunday morning by Fair Grounds stakes coordinator Scott Jones.

They are as follows: Discreetly Mine, Javier Castellano; Drosselmeyer, Kent Desormeaux; Ron the Greek, James Graham; Stay Put, Jamie Theriot; Wow Wow Wow, John Jacinto; A Little Warm, David Cohen; Backtrack, Shane Sellers; Fly Down, Jose Lezcano; Hotep, Patrick Husbands; Island Soul, Robby Albarado; Mission Impazible, Rajiv Maragh; Mister Marti Gras, Shaun Bridgmohan; and The Program, Martin Garcia.

Hall of Famer Trainers Lining Up for Louisiana Derby
Four Hall of Fame trainers are expected to start horses in the Louisiana Derby: Bob Baffert (The Program), D. Wayne Lukas (Wow Wow Wow), Bill Mott (Drosselmeyer) and Nick Zito (Fly Down). Also saddling Louisiana Derby starters will be two virtual locks as future Hall of Fame inductees in Steve Asmussen (Letsgetitonmon) and Todd Pletcher (Discreetly Mine and Mission Impazible).