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General Quarters Ready to March Again in Louisiana Handicap

Tom McCarthy, the 76-year-old owner and trainer of the one-horse stable that consists of last spring’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes winner General Quarters, watched his horse gallop around the Fair Grounds course Tuesday morning in preparation for Saturday’s $75,000 Louisiana Handicap as part of the local oval’s six-stakes Road to the Derby Kickoff Day program.

After winning the Blue Grass (and Tampa Bay’s Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes earlier last winter), General Quarters was a victim of a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby, and was discovered to have a chip that required surgery after another dull performance in the Preakness.

General Quarters did not return to competition until Dec. 26 at Fair Grounds, where he finished second by a half-length in a six-furlong sprint that might serve as an excellent tightener for Saturday’s Louisiana Handicap.

Casual racing fans might remember McCarthy as the subject of an Eclipse Award-winning television feature prior to the Kentucky Derby – a show that followed McCarthy at Keeneland and Churchill, interviewing him prior to the Blue Grass and also filmed McCarthy’s jubilation while watching General Quarters’ victory in the Blue Grass.

“This horse has been feeling very good the last few days,” said McCarthy Tuesday as he singlehandedly gave General Quarters a bath following the gallop. “I think this horse is coming up to the top of his game right now.

“You know, last spring when I gave this horse a bath after the Kentucky Derby, one of his nostrils was completely blocked with dirt, and his eye started closing up as I was bathing him,” McCarthy said. “But most of all I remember how mad he was, because he never had a chance to run his best race that day.”

Margolis Barn Has Four Live Ones in Saturday Stakes
Trainer Steve Margolis, winner of 13 races from 42 starts (31-percent) at Fair Grounds and a perfect two-for-two at Oaklawn Park (including one with Northern Belle in Sunday’s American Beauty Stakes), is represented with logical contenders in four of Saturday’s six stakes: 3-year-old filly Visavis in the $75,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes, 5-year-old mare Lady Chace in the $75,000 Dr. A.B. Leggio Memorial Stakes, 3-year-old gelding Cool Bullet in the Grade III Lecomte and 4-year-old gelding Cash Refund in the $75,000 F.W. Gaudin Memorial.

Martin Cherry’s Visavis, by Indian Charlie out of Lady Cerise, is the younger half-sister to Northern Belle, who won here in November and finished third in the Esplanade Stakes before earning her first stakes win at Oaklawn. Last month Visavis just missed her own first stakes win in the final strides of the Letellier Memorial, losing by a nose to My Jen in one of the best finishes of the season.

“She had a big race off a layoff and we would have liked to have won but you move on,” Margolis said. “She’s a young filly and I didn’t want to have to ship her around so we’ve been training up to this race. She’s a filly with a lot of talent.”

Margolis will be busy Saturday afternoon, as his four starters run in consecutive races, 8-11. After the Tiffany Lass, Race 8, he’ll head back to the paddock to saddle Gold Square LLC’s Lady Chace in the Leggio, Race 9. Winner of six races from 18 starts (including a 4-2-2-0 record at Fair Grounds) and second in this race last year, Lady Chace enters the Leggio Memorial off an easy three-length win in an allowance over a sloppy main track at Delta Downs.

“She’s run very well over this course and is coming off kind of an easy win,” Margolis said. “We had to freshen her up a little after the Delaware race (fifth in the Grade III Endine); she kind of threw a clunker in there. She had a really good year, though. The Saratoga race (fifth in the Grade II Honorable Miss) wasn’t bad; those were really good horses. She won the Saylorville (at Prairie Meadows), she ran a big race in the (Grade III) Winning Colors (at Churchill Downs, second by a length to Dubai Majesty before being disqualified to third). We got Robby (Albarado) to ride her, I like my post, she can kind of stalk a little bit. I think we’re a real good fit in there.”

In the featured Grade III Lecomte, Race 10, Margolis sends out Winmore LLC and Robert & Lawana Low’s Cool Bullet, winner of the Dec. 19 Sugar Bowl, the meet’s second open stakes race for foals of 2007. Now owned mostly by the Lows, the Red Bullet gelding will try to go two turns for the first time on Saturday. Last week, Margolis breezed him six furlongs in 1:16.

“I’ve been working him longer and slower because I know the horse has the speed, but I want to try to put some air into him and get him to relax,” the trainer said. “I can’t look into the future but right now he looks like a horse that can get the distance. We don’t know if he can go a mile-and-a-quarter or anything like that, we’ve got to take it one step at a time, but he could.”

Cool Bullet was purchased for $4,000 out of Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale by Dave Williams, the initial principal owner, and Ray Murray and Bob Estes. Margolis remembers getting a call from Williams.

“It was the last or second-to-last day of the sale,” Margolis recalled, “and he said, ‘I think we can get this horse cheap.’ The market had fallen, there was bad weather. For whatever reason he didn’t go for more money and I know Dave was shocked when he was able to buy him for $4,000.”

From there Cool Bullet went to Bill and Lynn Recio at Classic Mile Park in Ocala, Fla.

“Bill called me and said, ‘We have a nice horse here but I think we’re going to geld him, he’s just a little full of himself,’” Margolis said. “Being that we only paid $4,000 for the horse he went ahead and gelded him. They took their time with him and we got the horse around April. He was a good-looking horse. He ran a big second at Delaware and then regressed a little bit; his shins were bugging him. We tried to get another race into him before we pulled the plug on him and he really didn’t run a bad race. He was fourth but the winner ended up coming back to win the restricted (First State Dash Stakes) at Delaware.

“We gave him some time and the shins settled down. Then for whatever reason, when the horse started training here (at Fair Grounds) it was like the light went on.”

In Race 11, Gaudin, Richard, Bertram & Elaine Klein’s Cash Refund could represent the best chance to defeat the blazing fast Euroears, who dominated the Nov. 28 Thanksgiving Handicap and posted a typical-for-him five-furlong breeze in 1:00 3/5 on Jan. 12.

Cash Refund won here Dec. 27 off a seven-month layoff, taking a second-level allowance by a half-length as the odds-on favorite. Prior to that, the Petionville gelding finished second by less than a length to eventual Grade I winner Capt. Candyman Can, despite injuring himself, in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs. 

“He had the start of just a little fracture,” Margolis said about the layoff. “He didn’t need a surgical procedure; it was just a little something that popped up on him and we had to give him time off. So far so good and he hasn’t missed a beat.”

While Albarado will be aboard Lady Chace, the other three Margolis entrants will be ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr. That trainer-jockey combination is winning at 38-percent this meet.

“He’s a young rider who listens and he’s got a good set of hands on him,” Margolis said. “He did really well when we were at Delaware and he got to ride more of my horses. He was riding well and things were clicking and it seemed like all the horses he was riding were always right there.”

Louisiana Handicap/Bradley Handicap: Cross-Entered Tend Will Weigh Both Options
Adele B. Dilschneider & Claiborne Farm’s Tend, third in both the Nov. 26 Thanksgiving Handicap and the Dec. 20 Tenacious Handicap, is entered in both of Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile stakes, the $75,000 Louisiana Handicap on the main track and the Grade III Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap on turf. Trainer Al Stall Jr. said which race he’ll run in could be a race-day decision depending on weather and strength of competition.

“We’ll play it by ear,” Stall said. “We can scratch up until Saturday morning without any consequences so we’re in no hurry to decide.”

Tend, by Dynaformer out of Liable, is a half-brother to Grade II Clark Handicap and Grade II Fayette winner Blame. Although not an open-company stakes winner yet, Tend did win the restricted 2008 Sam’s Town Stakes at Delta Downs, for non-winners of a stakes race, and has proven competitive against good older horses, having run fourth in last year’s Louisiana ’Cap. In 15 career starts, Tend has hit the board 10 times.

“He’s very consistent, like his form shows,” Stall said. “We castrated him at Saratoga and it’s been kind of slow to take a hold of him, I think. He was a little rank, a little nervous on the inside, and he’s finally starting to give all of that up. If he were to run a more settled, a little bit more professional race, he might run better.”

Tend’s inability to relax has prevented him from realizing the success of his more famous younger sibling but improvement remains a possibility if the late summer castration ultimately does its job.

“We thought it might help him settle down because he’s always been super-aggressive,” Stall said. “A rider will get off of him after a race and say, ‘Man, that horse was pulling my guts out down the backstretch.’ That’s what Trey (Agilar, who rides Tend on Saturday) said last time. We’re just trying to get him to give that up a little more as we go along and maybe the only way that’ll happen is to race him regularly, say, every six weeks or so, and get him in more of a rhythm.”